Research Paper: Alcohol Abuse and the Elderly the Hidden Population

Pages: 5 (2077 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Sports - Drugs  ·  Buy This Paper

Alcohol Abuse and the Elderly: The Hidden Population

Alcohol Abuse and the Elderly

Alcohol abuse describes an excessive use of alcohol, despite physical and emotional consequences, and is capable of affecting any individual regardless of age. The growth of the elderly population has generated more concern for their physical and mental health, including the incidence of alcohol abuse. Although alcohol abuse generally declines with age, research has been emerging over the last two decades to suggest the existence of a substantial amount of alcohol abusers among the elderly (Widner, & Zeichner, 1991). This population usually does not garnish much attention from clinicians and health care practitioners, however there are warning signs of alcohol abuse among the elderly that are apparent and need to be acknowledged. Risk factors including depression and isolation are common, and reasons for alcohol misuse can not go ignored. A shift in attention to alcohol abuse in the elderly is necessary due to the increasing size of the population and lowered alcohol tolerance that is experienced with age, and is a significant health risk ("Substance abuse among," 2011). Case studies have also been performed to examine the prevalence of alcohol abuse among the elderly as well to establish additional risk factors. The climbing interest in researching alcohol abuse in the elderly reflects its frequency and harmful potential, however enough research is not available to generalize its incidence.

Alcohol abuse is considered a psychiatric diagnosis and chronic disease in which an individual drinks alcohol in excess despite damaging consequences (Smith). This abuse can be harmful to an individual's health, interpersonal relationships, and work obligations. If untreated and unacknowledged, alcohol abuse can develop into dependence and addition. In the elderly population, alcohol abuse tends to be a subject most individuals wish to ignore and can leave family members feeling ashamed and deciding not to confront the problem (Smith). Elderly adults are also less likely to seek treatment on their own. Clinicians and health care providers tend to focus on alcohol abuse in younger individuals, and can overlook abuse by the elderly as effects of alcoholism can potentially mimic those of aging (Smith). The combination of ashamed family members, elderly adults being more resistant to seek treatment, and clinicians mistaking signs of alcohol abuse culminates in the elderly being a "hidden population" in terms of alcohol abuse.

Some of the warning signs and risk factors associated with alcohol abuse are common occurrences with the elderly and are typical consequences of growing older. These common risk factors making the elderly more susceptible to alcohol problems include retirement, concern with death, poor health, and loneliness (Brody, 1980). Retirement is considered a risk factor as it induces boredom, role changes, and financial problems, and can lead those to alcohol as a way to cope with their circumstances. Concerns about death arise from losses of relatives, friends, and the struggle to accept one's own mortality, which also contributes to using alcohol as a coping mechanism. Poor health and chronic discomfort cause the elderly to abuse alcohol to alleviate pain. Loneliness is common among the elderly, particularly older women, as they lose spouses and friends later in life (Brody, 1980). The majority of the geriatric population experience variations of these risk factors and leaves clinicians to overlook these symptoms in relation to alcohol abuse. Many cases of elderly alcoholism have late onset when the mentioned risk factors are more severe, and health care providers are less likely to diagnose alcohol abuse (Atkinson, 1990). The crossover of warning signs between common outcomes of aging greatly contributes to elderly alcohol abusers to remain within the hidden population.

The behaviors of elderly individuals who abuse alcohol were first profiled by the Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario within a nursing home in Toronto over the course of eight years. The profile describes shared characteristics and behaviors among older problem drinkers. Such characteristics include several medical problems, malnutrition, increased occurrence of accidents and injuries, isolation and loneliness, difficulty with activities of daily living, having TV as an only interest, refusal to leave home, depression, inappropriate behavior, and gross neglect of self and home (D'Archangelo, 1993). The individuals abusing alcohol observed over the eight-year study tended to be disengaged from caregivers, displayed little motivation, were alienated from family, and rarely left their homes (D'Archangelo, 1993). The intense removal from the outside world and lack of engagement with others leaves these elderly individuals to be untreated, unknown, and concealed.

A shift in attention to alcohol abuse in the geriatric population must occur due to the expansion of this age group and to address this growing health problem. Addressing this problem includes health services improving their screening, treatment, and service methods. In terms of alcohol abuse, health care initiatives tend to focus more on younger age groups, and it is generally understood that alcohol use is less prevalent in the elderly than in younger people. This concept can be misleading and inaccurate due to less detection and misdiagnosis of alcohol abuse in the elderly (O'Connell, Chin, Cunningham, & Lawlor, 2003). Even though several cases of alcohol abuse in the elderly population go unreported or misdiagnosed, the ageing populations worldwide will inevitably translate into an increase of elderly people abusing alcohol (O'Connell, Chin, Cunningham, & Lawlor, 2003). The enlargement of the elderly population coupled with misdiagnosis creates an atmosphere for a silent epidemic.

Not only is the elderly population expanding, but their demographics are changing. Each generation experiences a different sense of culture, and this includes changing attitudes about drugs and alcohol ("Substance abuse among," 2011). In 2006, the front end of the baby-boom generation turned 60 and is now within range of retirement and the elderly age group. The baby-boom generation has more exposure to drugs and alcohol, and there is generally more acceptance to use these substances. This has the potential to create more problems, but at the same time, this generation has more awareness about addiction and could be more likely to seek treatment ("Substance abuse among," 2011). A concern less understood by the elderly population is their decrease in alcohol tolerance that comes with age. As one ages, body weight composed of water decreases, causing alcohol to affect them more quickly and intensely. Alcohol then takes longer to metabolize and can more easily lead to intoxication if not controlled ("Substance abuse among," 2011). This can compromise physical health and contribute to alcohol dependence.

The prevalence of alcohol abuse in the elderly is difficult to quantify and make generalities as views on alcohol vary from culture to culture, and there is a basic lack of research into this population. The majorities of studies have been performed in the United States and attempt to indicate the possible magnitude of incidence. Towards the beginning of the millennium, individuals over the age of 65 comprised of approximately 12.4% of the total U.S. population. This equates to 35 million people in the U.S. who are considered elderly and is the fastest growing age group (Benshoff, Harrawood, & Koch, 2003). The figure alludes to the potential millions of individuals who are untreated and misdiagnosed for alcohol abuse. By the year 2030, this age group will nearly double in size to 70 million and will represent 20% of the U.S. population (Benshoff, Harrawood, & Koch, 2003). Although projections have been made about the size of the elderly population, there is no quantifiable data to estimate the occurrence of alcohol and drug use. The only predictions are vague and ambiguous, stating that as the population doubles the alcohol problems with also increase. If the baby-boom generation proves to drink alcohol and consume drugs at greater rates than generations in the past, the need for rehabilitation and treatment services will also multiply (Benshoff, Harrawood, & Koch, 2003). As the rate of alcohol use increases the elderly can no longer afford to be a hidden population, and research groups quantifying alcohol abuse incidence will be able to bring this often ignored subject into focus.

Two of the case studies that previously inquired into alcohol abuse in the elderly were performed on a small scale, and their conclusions give glimpses into the alcohol abuse in this hidden population. One group studied alcohol use and abuse in 103 frail and homebound elderly individuals that were under the care of long-term home health programs for a period of seven months. From this sample, 84% were abstinent (including 25% of which used to be heavy drinkers), 14 would drink socially, and 2 were currently heavy drinkers. The study showed that abstinence increased with age, and seemed to be cultivated by the homebound environment (Bercsi, Brickner, & Saha, 1993). Another study aimed to assess the prevalence of alcohol abuse in the elderly performed medical histories at a university hospital during one randomly selected day. Data was collected from 370 patients by using the CAGE questionnaire (after over one-third of patients were unable to participate due to medical reasons). From this study, 54% of patients reported no alcohol consumption, 17% of men showed higher prevalence with… [END OF PREVIEW]

Four Different Ordering Options:

?
Which Option Should I Choose?

1.  Buy the full, 5-page paper:  $28.88

or

2.  Buy + remove from all search engines
(Google, Yahoo, Bing) for 30 days:  $38.88

or

3.  Access all 175,000+ papers:  $41.97/mo

(Already a member?  Click to download the paper!)

or

4.  Let us write a NEW paper for you!

Ask Us to Write a New Paper
Most popular!

Elderly Drug and Alcohol Abuse Term Paper


Elder Abuse Phenomenon Correlating Relationship to Elder Mortality Term Paper


Treatment of Women Diagnosed With Dysthymia Term Paper


Adolescent Suicide Integration of CBT and Self-Psychology Term Paper


America Has Become an Overmedicated Society Term Paper


View 19 other related papers  >>

Cite This Research Paper:

APA Format

Alcohol Abuse and the Elderly the Hidden Population.  (2011, June 24).  Retrieved July 16, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/alcohol-abuse-elderly-hidden-population/33555

MLA Format

"Alcohol Abuse and the Elderly the Hidden Population."  24 June 2011.  Web.  16 July 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/alcohol-abuse-elderly-hidden-population/33555>.

Chicago Format

"Alcohol Abuse and the Elderly the Hidden Population."  Essaytown.com.  June 24, 2011.  Accessed July 16, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/alcohol-abuse-elderly-hidden-population/33555.