This past Sunday, Oasis Clothing Bank in conjunction with their community partners Carnforth Self Storage and The FoodCabbie, held their first annual Community Clothing Drive and Customer Appreciation Clothing Drive (See last week’s blog What is Oasis?). This event gave us all the opportunity to interact and meet with the wonderful people that live in our community, among them was an interesting older gentleman named Joseph T. Joseph came to our event with three large bags of gently used clothing and explained to us how he has been clean and sober for two years and, has been an alcoholic for five. How could this be? Simple, Joseph T is what is known as a “late onset alcoholic”. Typically, most people begin abusing alcohol early in life, they become first exposed in their teens and usually become addicted thereafter. Joseph however is an example of what has become a trend in our aging population. In the course of our conversation, Joseph gave us the short version of how he became an alcoholic at the tender age of 68. Joseph was a successful financier, and at 65 he decided to retire and enjoy a life of leisure with his wife of 40 years Linda. Unfortunately, as the saying goes “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”, two years after Joseph’s retirement Linda was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and both their lives changed forever. Joseph, ever the optimist became the sole emotional and psychological support system for not only Linda but for their three grown adult offspring and, Joseph’s support came in the form of a bottle. At the age of 73 his children staged an intervention and got him the help he needed to deal with his alcoholism as well as, outside professional assistance for their deteriorating mother.
Those who become alcoholics late in life do so in response to a major life change, in the case of our new friend Joseph it was health related, for others it could be divorce, death of a spouse, or even something as innocuous as retirement. Typically, late onset alcoholics have a higher socioeconomic status, are less likely to have a family history of alcoholism, and may never succumb to the physical or cognitive ailments that plague the early onset alcoholic. Most literature also suggests that typically those who become alcoholics late in life are women, although such was not the case with our friend Joseph.
The following list can help you determine whether you or your loved one has a drinking problem,
- Increased anxiety or irritability
- Hiding or drinking alone
- Increased sadness or depression
- Memory issues
- Loss of Concentration
- Absence of interest in activities
- Little or no interest in personal grooming or hygiene
- Some episodes of incontinence
- Constant complaints of headaches, pain and dizziness
- New financial or legal problems
- loss of appetite
- loss of interest in interacting with family or friends
Unfortunately the symptoms of late onset alcoholism also mimics those symptoms related to aging, and are often dismissed by loved ones and doctors alike. There is some positive news however, studies show that while late onset drinkers may experience a slight decline in their mental and physical health because of their drinking, this can be reversed once they stop furthermore, these individuals are more willing to acknowledge their problem and seek help.
The average lifespan of someone living in Canada and the US sits around 82 years of age, and because of this we are exposed to more varied life experiences which not all of us are able to cope with, particularly in our twilight years. These are the years when life is supposed to become simplified. The reality of late onset alcoholism is yet another indication that we as a society neglect or elders; even though for most of us the neglect is not intentional but rather the result of an overscheduled lifestyle. We are all familiar with the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” (Hilary Clinton used it as the title of her book) perhaps, we should also familiarize ourselves with author Tia Walker’s quote “To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors”.