Is Social Drinking Harmful to People with Alzheimer's?

Health Professional

The social isolation that chronic diseases cause can be as difficult to cope with as the illness itself, for the person and for their caregivers. Having visits and going out are essential for a balanced healthy life but often social occasions involve alcohol. Is drinking harmful to people with Alzheimer's?

For most of us an occasional glass of wine, beer or spirit should not cause any significant problem unless your doctor has specifically told you or a loved one with Alzheimer's not to. The alcohol ban might be because of a specific illness or condition or it may be contra-indicated with medications being taken. Sometimes the ban is because the person with Alzheimer's has a history of drug/alcohol abuse.

Alcohol affects judgment. It can cause people to act in disinhibited ways. At its worst alcohol becomes an active ingredient in acts of domestic and criminal violence, in all different types of antisocial behavior. If you have someone whose disease is causing brain damage, such as Alzheimer's, then alcohol may adversely affect or exaggerate problem behaviors.

We are all individuals and that, of course, does not change because someone has Alzheimer's disease. But it does affect memory, the way a person processes information, confidence and mood. It can also affect mobility and if someone's balance is already poor even small amounts of alcohol may increase the risk of falls and broken bones.

Some people with Alzheimer's will not mind being reminded that they should not drink or they have to restrict their intake,yet others may. Caregivers have to make a judgement on how they are going to handle the situation.

The  stage of Alzheimer's  will influence the way caregivers develop some coping strategies. Diluting alcohol or replacing bottle contents may need to be considered. There are lots of great alcohol free drinks, including wines and beers, and most older people love sweet flavors.  It may be about providing strategies at social occasions that will help someone with Alzheimer's feel included and not show up their deficits in a demeaning way.

If the doctor feels a moderate amount alcohol will not be harmful then can I just remind you what moderate drinking is? Units of alcohol are often less than you think. For women, a moderate intake is considered to be one drink, (1 unit) per day. Men can have a slightly higher intake but it is still only one to two units of alcohol.  One unit of alcohol is the equivalent to  a regular strength glass or small bottle of beer/lager or, a glass of wine or a small measure of spirit. A single can of strong beer is around four units of alcohol.

More Information Problem Behaviors in Mid to Late Stage Alzheimer's