Featuring Dr. Chelo Belmonte of WellMed Northwest Loop 410, San Antonio
When discussing alcohol use and abuse, odds are that visions of teenagers or college students binge drinking come to mind followed by hard working, hard drinking men like those depicted in movies. But, according to the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in the past 20 years alcohol use has steadily increased among adults 60 and older.
While we all know it is unhealthy to drink too much, the dangers for older adults escalate for several reasons. First, as we age, we are likely taking more medication. The interaction of alcohol and certain medications can be hazardous and sometimes deadly. Second, drinking too much can exacerbate some medical conditions that are prevalent in older populations, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Dr. Chelo Belmonte of WellMed at Northwest Loop 410 understands the risks of alcohol use among the elderly. “The enzymes in our bodies that digest alcohol diminish with age. So, the alcohol remains in our systems longer. This lowers our tolerance for alcohol meaning we feel the effects more quickly than when we were younger,” she explains.
As with drinkers of all ages, those effects create higher risks for injuries like falls or car wrecks. The difference with older folks is that balance may already be an issue prior to drinking and because bone density often decreases with age, the propensity for broken bones from a fall is greater.
Dr. Belmonte also emphasizes that alcohol can worsen side effects of certain drugs. “If a medication makes a patient sleepy, alcohol will make it worse. That is why it is so important for patients to let their doctors know if they’re consuming alcohol and if so, how much.”
Sadly, the isolation brought on by the pandemic has increased underlying depression particularly in the elderly, many of whom were already feeling isolated. Dr. Belmonte says that some of those patients turned to alcohol to relieve those emotions, essentially numbing their pain.
So, what should caregivers or family members do when they recognize increased alcohol use in their patient or loved one? Dr. Belmonte urges them to share their concerns with the doctor. She advises that elderly patients are often more open to suggestions from their physicians, who are objective third parties.
“Patients should be open with their physicians about their drinking. It helps us see the big picture overall,” Dr. Belmonte says. “We’re not necessarily saying you’re doing something wrong, it’s just a guide. A good relationship between physician and patient involves honesty and trust.”
Facts you should know from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):
The following medications are just some that may interact badly with alcohol and should be closely monitored:
- Anxiety or Depression Medication
- Pain Medication
- Cold/Allergy Medications
- Cough Syrup
- Sleeping Pills
Heavy drinking can make the following problems worse:
- Congestive Heart Failure
- High Blood Pressure
- Liver Problems
- Memory Problems
- Mood Disorders
Dr. Chelo Belmonte received her bachelor’s degree and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. She earned her medical degree from Touro University Nevada in Henderson, Nevada. Dr. Belmonte is Board Certified in Family Medicine and a member of the American Osteopathic Association.
Dr. Belmonte is committed to changing the face of health care delivery for seniors by focusing on preventive medicine. This means delivering more personalized medical care and providing you with the preventive tools you need to improve your health and well-being.