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Older Adults Reap Alcohol Effects after Only a Few Drinks

A new study suggests that older adults can experience more pronounced effects of drinking a few glasses of wine than younger ones. Interestingly, however, they tend to be unaware of the impairment that alcohol is causing.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Sara Jo Nixon, Ph.D. of the University of Florida Gainesville. The findings were published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

After a few drinks, an individual will have a difficult time gauging his abilities which can lead to dissociation from their perception of what they can do to their actual capabilities. This holds true especially for older adults.

The study was composed of 42 respondents, aged 50 to 74 and 26 subjects from ages 25 to 35. They were randomly assigned to drink a controlled amount of alcohol and a non-alcoholic placebo. The alcohol group was given the same amount that would come up with equal blood alcohol levels.

After that, they went through a Trail-Making Test where they were told to connect numbered and lettered dots in a significant order as fast as they can. This will measure visual-motor coordination and the ability to go from one thought pattern to another. The tests were taken 25 and 75 minutes after drinking.

The study found that “older adults in the alcohol group performed poorly on the first test than their younger counterparts did – an age gap not seen in the placebo group.” However, when the older ones were asked about how they felt, they believed that they were less impaired.

Nixon points out that the effects of alcohol on the perception in older adults are quite subtle but they could be significant when they are already driving. She therefore advises older social drinkers, “Sit around for a while and let the alcohol metabolize. Don’t drink and run – stay and have dessert.”

Why the same blood alcohol levels affect older and younger adults in different ways is still unclear. However, Nixon doesn’t believe it has something to do with differences in alcohol metabolism. It’s probably because alcohol affects the brain of older adults differently.

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