As a nation, we like a tipple. Drinking alcohol is firmly wound into the fabric of society in the UK, however, is the tide starting to turn?
Much more is known today about the negative impact of excessive drinking on general health and wellbeing. The advent of the Dry January movement, which has gained significant traction over recent years, has brought sobriety and abstinence into the public eye more so than ever before. The New Year is now irrevocably associated with giving up the booze, whether that’s for a month, or a whole year. Whatever the personal commitment, the concept of limiting alcohol consumption is generally understood to be a good thing.
But what’s the reality of living with dementia and drinking alcohol? What can make limitation harder, and what can you and your support network do to help?
What impact can alcohol consumption have on general health and wellbeing?
Drinking alcohol to excess can lead to damage in various parts of the body including, the liver, pancreas, heart, general nervous system and of course, the brain.
Excessive drinking is defined as consuming more than 14 units of alcohol per week (for context, this is roughly 1.5 bottles of wine). Studies conducted within the last decade, all show the clear link between long-term, excessive drinking and the development of dementia. However, moderate alcohol consumption (14 units per week or under) is not thought to be a contributing factor.
How can drinking alcohol present problems for people living with dementia?
Drinking a moderate amount can be seen as a quick way to unwind and relax. It’s also often done in the company of friends, and socialising is good for us all! Whilst it is still absolutely possible to enjoy a glass of something if you’re living with dementia, the effects of alcohol on the body can worsen symptoms. Too much alcohol may make you:
Feel more confused
Struggle more to make yourself understood
More prone to falling/injuring yourself
Aggressive and worsen associated behaviours
It is also important to remember that certain medications used to treat dementia symptoms, may not mix well with alcohol. Please ensure that you have checked whether it’s safe to drink with your GP first.
As with everyone, limiting intake is key. However, this can present a real problem for people living with dementia, where remembering what you’ve already had can be a challenge. Here are some tips for tackling this:
Watering down the alcohol you have at home
Limit drinking to social occasions and refrain from keeping alcohol in the house
If appropriate, labelling beer bottles or miniature wine bottles with the day of the week might help
Buy low alcohol or no alcohol substitutes
If a dementia diagnosis has been received as a direct result of sustained alcohol abuse, it is vital to refrain from drinking all together.
How to cope if someone you know is struggling
If you’re concerned about your own drinking, or worried for the welfare of a loved one who is living with dementia and drinking too much, it can be a tricky subject to manage. Excessive drinking will ultimately speed up the progression of symptoms in someone living with dementia- often leading to dehydration, poor nutrition, self-neglect, impaired decision making and lack of general hygiene.
No bones about it, handling addiction, in conjunction with cognitive decline, is hard, but there are some measures you can put in place to help. Our Wayfinding team is also on hand to support you if you have any questions on alcohol consumption and living with dementia.
Consider what may be driving the drinking behaviour, are there underlying issues that counselling, or therapy could help?
Remove alcohol from the house and ask friends and relatives to help support this.
Try to keep occupied with other diverting activities, pick up an old hobby, or start a new one that is not associated with drinking.
If the situation warrants it, limiting access to funds for buying alcohol might help. Likewise, informing local shops of the issue can mean they refuse the sale of booze for misuse.
Living with dementia should not spell the end of a social life or take away from enjoying the odd glass of wine. However, it can make finding a balance harder and it’s important to be prepared for that.
If you’re at all concerned with how to manage, or if you feel out of control please reach out. As well as our Wayfinding Team, there are many organisations that offer help and guidance on drinking:
National Helpline, FREE 0800 9177 650
Rehab 4 Addiction are a free service to help those affected by drug and alcohol addiction.
Support for families of alcoholics:
Helpline 0800 0086 811
Our Wayfinding Team are here to help but adjusting and educating ourselves is, for some, the first step on the journey. Offering free advice and guidance for your whole dementia journey, even from before you have a formal diagnosis. The Wayfinders can also support you to access other services we work with to provide holistic, person-centred support.
If you have concerns about your loved one's memory, you can contact our Wayfinders on 01243 888691. They can support you and your loved ones for your whole journey with dementia, from pre-diagnosis to end of life care.