Remember the One Drink Rule


When my Charlie was a young man, like most young men, he was a beer drinker.

Then he entered pilot training.

He was in the officers club one evening during his flight training, drinking a beer, when a superior officer came up to him and said, "Son, if you're going to be a pilot, you need to learn to drink martinis."

And so it began, Charlie's years of drinking martinis.

Someone once gave him a towel for Christmas that read: One martini, two martinis, three martinis, floor! This was so true, especially as he got older.

Martinis are almost pure gin with a bit of flavoring thrown in, much higher alcohol content than beer or wine, for example. While the martinis had little noticeable effect on the young Charlie, on the elderly Charlie they took their toll.

The solution was to switch to wine; an adjustment he made easily. But he has now found that three glasses of wine are two glasses too many.

You see, the body of an elderly person metabolizes alcohol differently than that of a younger person. There is a decrease in the total body water in older people. They also tend to have more body fat. These two physiological problems result in a much higher blood alcohol concentration in the elderly than in younger people from the same number of drinks.

There is evidence that a single drink per day may give some health benefit to the elderly. One drink has been shown to protect against coronary heat disease, myocardial infarctions and Type 2 diabetes among other things.

But the secret here is the word: single.

Charlie has always been a person who thinks more is better in everything he does.Two hammers are better than one, although you can only use one at a time, two vitamin pills per day are better than one, although your body will eliminate the unneeded vitamins, two canes are better than one, although one sits in the corner unused – see what I mean?

Ergo – he thinks two drinks (or three or four) are better than one, although tests have shown the exact opposite.

The size of the glass is also a problem when deciding how much alcohol is a good thing.A moderate drink is defined as one 12 ounce beer, a five ounce glass of wine, or one-and-a-half ounces of spirits.

Remember the problem we had with Charlie's water consumption? He thought he was supposed to be drinking eight 16 ounce glasses of water per day, rather than eight 8 ounce glasses. There is a big difference.

Over consumption of alcohol can be a primary factor in the development of dementia.

This type of dementia is known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. It causes damage to multiple nerves in both the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system, possibly related to the lack of Vitamin B1 (Thiamine).

People with this syndrome tend to have trouble with problem solving, learning, memory impairment and fabrication (making up stories to cover memory loss). They tend to have poor judgment, and undergo personality changes.

Sleep disturbances in the elderly are also to be expected in one who consumes too much alcohol. They suffer from insomnia and breathing disturbances that disrupt sleep. A person who has sleep problems should avoid alcohol consumption at bedtime.

If you are a person who enjoys an occasional alcoholic beverage, you may be doing your health some good. But remember, the secret is one drink!

Marlis describes herself as a “Gramma who loves technology and has a lot to say.” She blogs about whatever catches her interest: food, books, family and more. For, she writes about the issues facing the elderly and her experiences caring for her husband, Charlie, who suffers from dementia.

View full profile

You May Also Like

Free AgingCare Guides

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!


Thank you Marlis this article was an eye opener and has sent me off in a new direction. Lots of research to do now Thank goodness for the Internet and people like you generous enough to share your knowledge. Charlie is a lucky man to have you in his life
Early in my husband's dementia journey I asked his neurologist, with him present, "What about alcohol?" I wanted to be sure that Coy heard the message straight from the doctor, and not from me. To my surprise the doctor replied that he should keep it to no more than 2 drinks a day, and watch for any effects such as worsening balance problems. (Coy was not driving at this point.)

Later Coy's geriatrician gave pretty much the same guidelines.

I think in both cases the doctors were not so much thinking of the health benefits of wine as they were the pleasure of having the drinks. Dementia deprives people of so much that can't be helped, when we don't have a good evidence and a firm reason for a deprivation, let's not add it to the heap!

Coy really loved having a beer when he had bratwurst, and ordering wine at a restaurant. After a while it was more about remembered pleasure than actual pleasure at the time. He often left most of his beer or wine at a restaurant. The pleasure was in being able to order it, in being seen as "normal," and in tasting some of it. He didn't need a full glass for that, let alone two!

Last Thanksgiving I wanted him to come to the dining room to eat with me. (We'd had a big family gathering a few days earlier.) He resisted, said he was too tired, wanted to eat in his recliner. But when he saw the table all set with the good china and a wine glass he perked up and changed his mind. We had a pleasant meal and he went to bed. That was his last glass of wine. He died a week later. I am so glad that a drink now and then was not yet another pleasure he'd been deprived of.

Let's hear it for doctors who care about their patients' happiness!
Wonderful memories Jeannie Thank you for sharing.
Special hugs as you approach the first anniversary of Coy's death.