Alcoholism and Falls in Older Adults
As a person ages, balance and posture become extremely important. Overtime, the body can begin to lose muscle mass and in some cases bone mass which can lead to poor muscle balance. Proper muscle balance is important for the body. If muscle is not evenly distributed or becomes unbalanced, it can lead to joint issues or possibly an injury and pain. In an aging adult, muscle balance can help stability, posture and can even help prevent a fall. Alcohol however, can advance a lack of balance and stability for an elder, leading to more falls which can be life threatening.
According to the National Safety Council, 1 in 3 adults over the age of 65 fall each year. Falling, especially if the elder is over the age of 75 is extremely dangerous, and the chances of falling increase with age. If an elderly adult is consuming large volumes of alcohol or becoming intoxicated their risk of falling at home significantly increases.
Alcohol slows down basic motor skills, reaction times and overall stability. According to a study by the Department of Clinical Sciences at Lund University, “stability declined much faster from alcohol intoxication between 0.06% and 0.10%. Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) compared with between 0.0% and 0.6% BAC.”
When an elderly adult becomes intoxicated their balance and posture are directly affected. Since many elders live alone this could be alarming to a caregiver or loved one who can’t visit them daily. If an elder falls and cannot reach the phone they could potentially lay on the floor for hours. If they are bleeding or unconscious, the situation could become more critical. While many elderly adults typically consume less alcohol than younger people, there are many seniors that have had alcohol related problems for 20, 30 and 40 plus years.
According to About.com: Alcohol and Aging, drinking problems in nursing homes is around 49% according to certain studies and around 6 to 11% of elder adults admitted to hospitals also display signs of alcoholism as well.
What You Can Do
An elder can take many preventative steps to avoiding a fall such as increasing stability through balancing and strengthening exercises, attending physical therapy weekly, maintaining a healthy weight and by moderating or stopping a drinking problem. An elderly adult may feel like their alcohol use is too far gone to be fixed, but ultimately anyone at any age can change their life. If an elder feels lost or as if they have no purpose, it’s very important to reassure them that they can have goals, desires and feel a sense of happiness at any stage of life.
Encourage an elderly adult to find new habits and constrictive behaviors. This could possibly be achieved through writing, painting, joining a club or volunteering if they have the ability to do so. Simply persuade them to find what gives them joy and happiness and they will immediately start feeling a sense of relief that alcohol can only provide them with temporarily. If you know an elder with an alcohol problem, there are alternatives to alcohol treatment programs that can provide them with hope and inspiration.
Guest Post by Melissa Kluska of Saint Jude Retreats
Melissa currently writes for Saint Jude Retreats, a non 12 step alternative to traditional drug and alcohol treatment. As well as writing for St. Jude’s, Melissa enjoys blogging about health and relationships.