Elderly May Be At Greater Risk Of Alcohol Impairment
April 12, 2013

Alcohol Impairment Hits The Elderly Hardest

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A new study from Baylor University shows that the elderly might suffer a greater impairment in coordination, learning and memory caused by an acute dose of alcohol than young people might.

The findings, published online in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research and presented this past June at the Research Society of Alcoholism conference, have profound significance for older people. The impact is widespread as our population ages at an unprecedented rate globally — including Baby Boomers who are becoming senior citizens.

"Health implications such as falls, accidents and poor medicine-taking are pretty easy to conclude," said Douglas B. Matthews, Ph.D, a research scientist in psychology and neuroscience in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences and head of psychology at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Up to 13 percent of men and eight percent of women over the age of 65 in the United States engage in risky drinking behavior. Scientists estimate that one to three percent of those engaging in such behaviors are afflicted with an alcohol use disorder. By the year 2030, the US Census Bureau estimates that people 65 and older will account for 20 percent of the population because of improvements in medicine and public health, nutrition and education.

Prior research indicated that older people show significantly greater impairments with alcohol consumption than younger adults. Understanding the underlying neurobiology for that increased sensitivity, however, was hampered by the lack of an adequate animal model, according to Matthews.

The new study from Baylor is the first of its kind. It established a baseline of the acute effects of alcohol in aging populations. Future research into neurobiology and determining the effects of prolonged alcohol abuse will be helped by the new baseline.

The experiment made use of adult and aged rats — at least 18 months old — showing a dramatic increase in ethanol-induced ataxia, or muscle coordination.

"We know a lot of neurobiological changes occur during aging which underlie age-related cognitive and behavioral deficits. It's reasonable to suspect a significant interaction exists between age-related and alcohol-induced effects in the brain," said Jim Diaz-Granados, Ph.D., chair of Baylor's department of psychology and neuroscience, and chair of the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology, a national organization.

"Our hope would be that further findings in this area will serve as a basis to educate the public regarding the risks and provide insights in the clinic," Diaz-Granados said.