Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10

Columns

Moderate drinking works when socializing with friends

Articles about preventing dementia are numerous. The most recent one I read was in the Montreal Gazette on August 28, under the headline “Moderate drinking in elderly can ward off dementia: study.” Whether it is drinking pomegranate juice, doing crossword puzzles, or exercising regularly, studies suggest many ways we can ward off Alzheimer’s (AD). As with many diseases, prevention involves exercising body and mind, proper diet, and avoiding excessive alcohol and coffee.

This study suggested that the risk of dementia may be lessened with moderate drinking due to a protective effect of alcohol in reducing inflammation and heart disease, but what concerned me was the social interaction related to drinking.

My worry is with seniors who are socially isolated. As people age, their circle of friends shrinks and it becomes more difficult to keep up with social activities they once enjoyed. Harsh winter weather makes leaving the home more difficult. Physical disabilities such as hearing or vision impairment can make social interaction stressful. Family gatherings may be few if children have moved away.

In short, many seniors spend much of their time alone. This can lead to depression and perhaps cognitive impairment, as suggested by some studies. Alcohol can be a dangerous addition to such a mix.

Some cognitively well individuals insist on remaining in their homes, even when their physical handicaps create a safety risk. These once sociable seniors live lonely lives. Seniors who live alone must make an effort to have a social life, such as joining clubs or taking courses.

For cognitively impaired individuals, living alone presents a whole different dimension. A needs assessment and care plan outlines whether the person can be alone for periods of time. Home care may turn out to be the best option, and hired caregivers can insure the person’s physical needs are looked after. The individual’s social needs should not be overlooked. Social interactions are as important for the cognitively impaired as it is for the cognitively well.

I recall an assessment of a man with AD who lived in the large home where he had lived most of his life with round-the-clock care. He was no longer able to leave the upper storey of his home because of the stairs. He remained there for over two years with no interaction besides his caregiver and family visitors. The television was his only source of entertainment. For the last year of his life, he moved into a nursing home, close to his family, where he enjoyed being among others. His physical needs were better managed because the facility was equipped to make transfers more comfortable.

All assessments and care plans should include studying the person’s social life with recommendations when appropriate to include social interactions.

While moderate drinking may ward off AD for scientific reasons, I know I will drink my martinis with friends. Send comments or questions to b.sandler@sympatico.ca

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