According to a study published in the journal BMC Research Notes, researchers in the Netherlands studied the effects of alcohol on 13 healthy men and women, all 62 years old or older.
The research participants drank two alcoholic beverages, and then walked on a treadmill. Once they reached a comfortable walking pace, thin blocks were placed on the treadmill belt for them to step over as they came toward them.
The participants all experienced difficulties stepping over the blocks after ingesting alcohol, due to decreased motor skills and reaction times. What is also surprising is the amount of alcohol ingested was not over the legal limit for driving, although clearly there was a degree of impairment. Interestingly, all of the participants said they were unaware of any impairment in their abilities, in spite of the results of the test.
In a similar study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, University of Kentucky researchers recruited 42 men and women ages 50-74 and 26 men and women ages 25-35. The participants were given either alcoholic drinks or placebos and then asked to connect numbered dots as quickly as possible. Each participant took the test twice, 25 minutes after drinking and again 75 minutes after drinking. The older folks were much slower at completing the task than the younger ones, even though they too reported they felt fine, with no impairments.
These studies show even small amounts of alcohol can seriously impact the cognitive and coordination skills of older people. Factor in prescription medications and any pre-existing physical impairments (poor eyesight, hearing problems, etc.) and the potential for a dangerous situation is very real.
The best solution is for older folks to not drive at all after having any alcohol.
The Senior Connection is a column provided by the Clinton County Office for the Aging. For more information about services for senior citizens, contact their office at 135 Margaret St., Suite 105, Plattsburgh or call them at 565-4620. Information is also periodically provided by the Behavioral Health Services North Caregiver Resource Center. They may be reached at 565-4543 or 565-4625.