Common myths about alcohol and aging
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As you look at your healthy habits for the new year, it’s also a good time to check in on how much alcohol you drink.
Alcohol can have different effects on your health as you age.
We’ve debunked four common myths about alcohol and aging. The key is moderation.
The start of a new year means many people are reviewing their habits and making new resolutions. Is drinking on your list? As you look at what you eat and how much you exercise, it might be a good time to check in on how much alcohol you drink too.
There are many myths about alcohol and aging. Is drinking actually good for you? Does it make you age faster? We’ve identified and debunked four key myths about alcohol. And what you should know as you age.
Myth: I should start drinking red wine to stay healthy
Red wine has caused debate among researchers for quite some time. Some research has found a connection between drinking a moderate amount of red wine and a lower risk of heart disease. However, no study has shown that drinking alcohol (including red wine) directly causes better heart health.
It’s more likely that people who have a healthy heart and drink red wine also have other healthy habits. Red wine gets a lot of attention because it has antioxidants from the skin of grapes. The ingredient resveratrol may help reduce inflammation and bad cholesterol.
According to the American Heart Association, proving that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol is good for heart health is challenging. And there are some clear negatives to drinking too much alcohol: high blood pressure, liver disease, and some cancers, for example. There are much better ways to stay heart healthy, such as eating vegetables and whole grains, exercising, and not smoking.
The message? Don’t start drinking now, thinking it will make you healthier. If you already drink, it’s probably okay to continue enjoying the habit in moderation. The Centers for Disease Control defines “moderation” as one drink or less each day for women and two drinks or less each day for men. Drinking less is better than drinking more.
Myth: Drinking alcohol causes Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of disability in people older than 65 and the most common form of dementia. Researchers don’t fully know what causes this disease, but it’s likely a mix of factors. Is alcohol one of them? It’s possible, but there’s no certain evidence to say that alcohol makes you more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Drinking lots of alcohol for many years can lead to brain damage. And brain damage can increase your chances of getting dementia. Some studies have shown that if you have Alzheimer’s disease, it can get worse more quickly for heavy drinkers.
It’s clear that too much alcohol can have negative impacts on the body. Alcohol can damage the brain and shrink parts of the brain that help it function. There’s no guarantee that drinking in moderation causes Alzheimer’s disease or protects against it.
Myth: You can drink more (or the same amount of) alcohol as you get older
As you age, you may notice that having the same number of drinks you had a decade (or two) ago affects you differently – even if you’ve been a regular drinker for many years. This is, in part, because of how your body changes over time.
Older adults have less water in their bodies. And alcohol dehydrates you – meaning it pulls water out. With less water, the amount of alcohol in your blood goes up faster than in your younger years. Higher blood alcohol levels can lead to falls, injuries, and confusion.
Your body also processes alcohol more slowly as you age. It gets harder for the liver to remove the alcohol from your system, so it stays in your blood longer.
You may not be able to drink at all because of lifestyle changes that happen later in life. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say it’s safest to avoid alcohol if you take certain medications or if you have a medical condition that could worsen with alcohol. If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor.
It’s important to be aware of how changes associated with age can impact your response to alcohol, so you can stay safe and healthy.
Myth: Older people can’t develop new drinking problems
When people think of alcoholism, they often consider it a younger person’s disease. Or an addiction someone has struggled with for their entire life. But a lot of people can develop drinking problems as they age. According to a study in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, 10% of adults ages 65 and older are binge drinkers.
There are many changes or life events in older age that can trigger the desire to drink more alcohol and lead to an alcohol problem:
- Sleep problems
- Losing a partner or friend
No matter what causes you to drink more, it’s important to notice warning signs of when you have a drinking problem. There are several tools and resources for support, including the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction and the National Institute on Aging. You should also regularly discuss your alcohol use with your doctor.
Alcohol in moderation is key
We understand that drinking alcohol is a big part of our social culture. It can help you relax or connect with friends. But it can also hurt your health over time, especially as you age.
If you already drink on occasion, it’s okay – some research suggests it may be good for your health. However, if you’re a heavy drinker or are thinking of taking up the habit, know that alcohol can cause a lot of damage when not managed properly.
For your New Year’s resolution, consider cutting back or finding alternate ways to stay healthy. And always remember moderation.
Find a doctor
The geriatric specialists at Providence can help you get the most out of your senior years with advanced care focused on keeping both your mind and body functioning at their best. Find a Providence doctor using our provider directory. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.