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We often look to the older members of our whānau  for guidance, but ageing can come with new challenges. There are ways we can support them to remain well and connected.

Alcohol and ageing bodies

As you get older, your body will process what you eat and drink in a different way. You will start feeling more sensitive to different things as your body copes with the changes. Some of these will be challenges you are dealing with for the first time.

Alcohol will stay in your body for longer, and affect you more quickly, in ways you’re not used to.

Common physical changes

Metabolism is the chemical reactions in the body's cells that change food into energy. Your body needs this energy to do everything, such as moving, thinking, and growing. As you age, your metabolism slows down. Your body will not process alcohol at the same rate and the same speed that you’re used to.

Your body can hold less water as you get older. As you drink more, there is less liquid in your body for the alcohol to dissolve in. It will make you mimi or need to go to the bathroom more often, and lose more body water.

When you drink more, alcohol will replace whatever water your body needs. This will make you pee and dehydrate more often, and more quickly.

At any age, you should not be mixing most medications with alcohol. Your slower metabolism as you age also means that your liver will be working hard to process alcohol instead of medication.

Drinking at any age increases your chance of being physically injured. Alcohol will affect you more quickly as you get older, and injuries also take more time to heal. If you already have mobility issues or find it hard to get around, drinking will put you at higher risk of injuries from falling or hurting yourself.

Alcohol can make other health conditions you may already have worse. This includes chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, and more.

Alcohol and ageing brains

As you get older, you might notice yourself functioning differently than your younger self. This is a part of ageing, but can be made worse with alcohol.

People who have been drinking heavily and regularly since they are teenagers are at a higher risk of:

  • memory issues
  • mood issues
  • inability to solve problems or learn

If you or someone in your whānau is worried about memory problems, it’s a good idea to check this out with a health professional. 

Making changes

Drinking as much as you’re normally used to can lead to new risks when you’re older. 

If you’re still drinking the same amount of alcohol as you did when you’re younger, you may be at risk of some withdrawal. Some of us end up relying on alcohol throughout our lives without noticing it.

Every person is different so be aware of how alcohol makes you feel. Think of cutting down even if a small amount of alcohol is affecting you.

If you feel like something is not right or have any questions, it is always a good idea to seek advice from a health professional such as your GP.

Looking out for older members of the whānau

Some changes can be quite subtle, such as often forgetting appointments. If you know someone well, like your Aunty, Uncle, Nan or Koro, you may notice them becoming more irritable or argumentative, or getting injured more often. These might be caused by long-term drinking.

Some other things we can do for the older members of our whānau are:

  • providing more or non-alcoholic drinks at gatherings
  • checking their medicine labels for them
  • going to health appointments with them
  • approaching any issues with kindness and aroha, even if you disagree
  • checking in on them, especially if they are alone, may feel disconnected, or are living further away from whānau and friends.

Remaining connected and valued is important in someone’s journey to remaining well as they age. Our older whānau, particularly our kaumātua, are our connection to our tīpuna, so we should continue to respect them and their choices. 

Be a regular part of their lives. Do things together through tikanga or talking about your whakapapa, taking them to church or to moko’s club games. Let them see their importance to your whānau and uphold their mana. This can be therapeutic, for all of you.