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Depression and Alcoholism in Aging Adults

Depression and alcoholism commonly coincide for all affected age groups. Many times, one proves to be a result of the other. These two disorders occur simultaneously in more than 8% of the older population. Not only changes in the body, but also changes in the mind may be attributed.

Depression is not a “natural” part of aging. In the elderly, it can be caused by a number of factors including a reduced quality of life and an increased mortality. Loneliness, pain, fear, boredom, and lack of socialization are among other causes of depression. In addition to these feelings, major life events and psychosocial stressors often contribute to increased alcohol intake. This poses a number of problems. Age-related changes in the body affect alcohol absorption, metabolism, and the elimination thereof. Hepatic and renal function becomes compromised and the brain becomes more vulnerable. Risk of drug interactions and toxicity is increased. Furthermore, cognitive impairments can compromise the ability to monitor alcohol consumption.

What can caregivers do to decrease the frequency of this phenomenon? The answer lies largely in the capacity for observation. Communication is key. Listening to patients via simple conversation can provide a vast array of indicators. Since a number of older adults view both depression and alcoholism as moral deficiencies, admitting there is a problem could, in fact, be a problem. Denial is common.

A primary care physician can provide further insight and, potentially, prescribe antidepressants, when appropriate. Likewise, maintaining regular wellness visits is crucial. Providing the opportunity for a patient to socialize in a community setting is ideal, but not always possible. Ensuring adequate rest and a healthy diet, engaging in a change of daily routine, and introducing a new activity or hobby are simple ways to combat depression that are within the means of a caregiver. We must focus on the aspects we are able to control in order to better the lives of our elderly.

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