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Older Adults and Alcohol

A national 2008 survey found that about 40 percent of adults ages 65 and older drink alcohol. Older adults can experience a variety of problems from drinking alcohol, especially those who:

• Take certain medications
• Have health problems
• Drink heavily

There are special considerations facing older adults who drink, including:

Increased Sensitivity to Alcohol
Aging can lower the body’s tolerance for alcohol. Older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger. This puts older adults at higher risks for falls, car crashes, and other unintentional injuries that may result from drinking.

Increased Health Problems
Certain health problems are common in older adults. Heavy drinking can make these problems worse, including:

• Diabetes
• High blood pressure
• Congestive heart failure
• Liver problems
• Osteoporosis
• Memory problems
• Mood disorders

Bad Interactions with Medications
Many prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as herbal remedies can be dangerous or even deadly when mixed with alcohol. Medications that can interact badly with alcohol include:

• Aspirin
• Acetaminophen
• Cold and allergy medicine
• Cough syrup
• Sleeping pills
• Pain medication
• Anxiety or depression medicine

Drinking Guidelines for Older Adults
Adults over age 65 who are healthy and do not take medications should not have more than:

• 3 drinks on a given day
• 7 drinks in a week

Drinking more than these amounts puts people at risk of serious alcohol problems.

If you have a health problem or take certain medications, you may need to drink less or not at all.

Source: NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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The 5 Wishes Document

What is Five Wishes and why is it so popular?

 Five Wishes is an advance directive that allows all adults to make important healthcare decisions before a serious illness. It is used to give instructions to your family, friends, and healthcare providers about the types of medical treatments you would want, or not want, if you become seriously ill and can no longer speak for yourself. The concept of an advance directive has been around for decades, but most Americans have not filled one out. Five Wishes is different, and popular, for several reasons:

  • It’s easy to understand. Many advance directives were written by well-meaning legislators, attorneys, and doctors. The documents answered many important questions, but they were very hard for most people without medical or legal training to understand. Five Wishes set a new standard by “translating” the medical and legal jargon into a form that is more understandable and user friendly.

  • It includes important personal preferences. Again, the first generation of advance directives — most of the documents written in state statutes — were created to answer the questions that were most important to doctors and lawyers. Five Wishes is different because it aims to answer the questions that are most important to the person who is seriously ill and his or her caregivers. For example, when people are asked to list the things that would be most important if they knew they were near the end of life, people responded: I want to be at home, I don’t want to be in pain, I want to be prayed for, I want my family to know that I love them, I want my loved ones to be at peace with each other. Five Wishes is the only widely available advance directive that meets the legal requirements in most states and also includes these issues identified as “most important” by the majority of people.

  • It helps communication. It is broadly agreed that talking about your advance directive — explaining your thoughts and decisions to your loved ones and healthcare providers — is just about as important as signing the legal document. But imagine taking a typical legal document (let’s say the forms you sign when you buy a house) or medical paperwork (let’s say the forms you sign when you’re admitted to a hospital) and trying to summarize these documents clearly to your grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, or adult children. Hard to imagine? You’re not alone. And that’s why many people who completed a legally valid advance directive many years ago did so, and didn’t tell anyone about it! Five Wishes puts advance care planning on your turf in terms that are comfortable. We may not all know the legal and medical nuances, but we know what it means to maintain our dignity at the end of life. Five Wishes helps us express these thoughts.


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