By Margarita Nahapetyan
A glass or two of alcohol not only affects adults after heir 50s much more than their younger drinking counterparts, but they are also less likely to believe that they have been impaired by booze.
Most of the studies that have been conducted in order to analyze problems with drinking, were focusing on college students and involved binge drinking, but very little attention has been paid to the effects of social drinking among middle-aged and older adults. Therefore, there is not much evidence about age-related differences in the effects of alcohol, according to the researchers at the University of Florida.
"Even though younger and older adults appear to have similar metabolism, the behavioral implications are different," said a main researcher of the study, Sara Jo Nixon, who is presently a professor in the department of psychiatry, division of addiction medicine, and director of the Neurocognitive Laboratory at the UF in Gainesville.
A new study involved 42 older people with the ages between 50 and 75, and twenty six younger participants with the ages between 25 and 35. All participants were social drinkers and did not smoke. For the experiment, some volunteers from each age group were given a moderate amount of alcohol, while others consumed placebo drinks containing no alcohol.
After that each person had to undergo the Trial Making Test two times - at 25 minutes and 75 minutes after drinking. The requirements of the test were to connect different numbers and letters with a line as quickly as it was possible.This would give the scientists an opportunity to measure and evaluate visual-motor coordination and planning of the participants, as well as their ability to move from one task to another. All the adults were also asked to rate their state of intoxication and express the opinion on how much they thought the alcohol impaired their ability to perform during the test.
The results revealed that participants from the older-age group who consumed beverages containing alcohol, needed more time to complete their task in comparison with the younger participants. In addition, at the first testing, 25 minutes after the alcohol intake, the adults from this group believed that they felt less impaired by alcohol, compared to their younger buddies. At the second testing, 75 minutes after alcohol intake, when the effects of the alcohol started to wear off, the older adults admitted to be more affected by alcohol, thought the results of their performance during the test were similar to those of the participants who did not take any alcohol.
Prior to the study, all volunteers in the experiment were examined for health problems. Those who had serious or chronic medical issues were not involved in the research, as well as individuals with substance abuse problems and anyone with an extra weight or obesity. In both age groups there were individuals who were taking over the counter or prescription drugs for certain conditions such as depression and high blood pressure, a situation that would accurately reflect the general population.
The experts say that it is not clear yet why the same levels of alcohol in the blood would affect older people and younger ones in a different way. But it does not look like a difference in alcohol metabolism, according to Nixon. Instead, she explained, alcohol consumption may have a different impact on the brain of the older people. The scientist also said that the researchers focused on the immediate effect of alcohol only, and did not examine the potential long-term effects of social drinking on the function of the brain.
Many studies that have been previously conducted have suggested that it takes longer time for an alcohol to metabolize with aging, longer time to clear from the body system, as well as may cause some changes in the brain chemistry of older people. Nixon recommends that people after their 50s should be more careful with their habits of social drinking. Monitoring your drinking does not make you old, she concluded, but just smart.