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The Pros and Cons of Seniors Drinking Coffee – Moderation is Key

Seniors love coffee. In fact, older adults drink more coffee than any other age group, with nearly three-quarters of Americans aged 55 and older sipping at least one cup per day according to Statistica. While drinking a few cups of java every day may positively affect health, energy and mood levels, too much can cause problems with sleep, hydration and existing health conditions. While the geriatric crowd should still enjoy their daily brew, managing consumption is necessary to prevent unnecessary negative side effects. Do you know how much coffee your senior parents are drinking? Here are some of the effects of caffeine on seniors.

The Upside of Coffee

Many coffee drinkers savor that first-morning cup that jolts the body to increased alertness.  In addition to improving cognitive functions, coffee, in moderation, surprisingly can reduce the risk of chronic conditions and ailments such as Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease and depression. 

Coffee and Health, an institution for scientific information on coffee, sites research that indicates partaking of 3 – 4 cups of “joe” daily – now that’s without sugar and cream - can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by as much as 25%. Men and women share in this benefit, whether drinking caffeinated or decaffeinated brew. The organization also reports studies that suggest coffee consumption reduces or delays the development of Parkinson’s Disease. It’s the caffeine and Eiconsanoyl-5-hydroxtrypatmide components of coffee working together that prevents biochemical changes associated with Parkinson’s Disease, explains the American Parkinson Disease Association.

And the benefits don’t stop there. Based on results from Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Dementia study, individuals who began drinking 3-5 cups of the hot stuff daily at midlife decreased their risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease by about 65% later in life. Benefits are associated with the dark roast and not the caffeine in the coffee. Studies to identify the protective effects of caffeine against dementia are ongoing.

Reduced heart failure is another positive effect of moderate coffee drinking. Individuals, including seniors, that consumed 1 to 4 cups daily are 19% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.

Now the Bad News on Coffee

While caffeine is not bad for the elderly in low levels, those who drink more than four cups of coffee daily can experience anxiety, headaches, restlessness and heart palpitations, notes the Mayo Clinic. Too much caffeine overstimulates the nervous system, leading to jitters, an upset stomach and elderly sleep issues.

According to a study on the metabolic clearance of caffeine, older adults above age 65 take 33% longer to metabolize caffeine than younger adults, so it stays in the nervous system longer. So, if your elderly parent drank a cup of coffee at 4 p.m., chances are their body is still processing it at 10 p.m., keeping them up at night.

Dehydration and increased blood pressure also are side effects of too much caffeine. Dehydration is one of the top causes of hospitalization among adults over 65 years of age. Drinking coffee instead of water throughout the day when thirsty can contribute to dehydration.

Coffee can irritate the stomach linings of the elderly with ulcers and gastritis as it helps produce stomach acid and stimulates gastric acid production. Java also can potentially interfere with the potency of certain medications such as antidepressants, thyroid medication and stereopsis drugs by reducing absorption into the body cites the AARP. For example, individuals who wash down their thyroid medication with coffee reduce its absorption up to 55 percent. In some cases, java can amplify the stimulate of certain drugs, further increasing heart rate and causing jitters. 

Watch Out for Other Foods with Caffeine

While your aging loved one may just drink one or two cups of coffee daily, consider other foods that add to caffeine intake during the day. Among the culprits are:

  • Chocolate
  • Tea
  • Ice cream and frozen yogurt
  • Pudding
  • Hot Cocoa
  • Soda
  • Energy water
  • Pain relievers
  • Protein bars

For example, one 12-ounce cola contains about 50 mg of caffeine while one ounce of chocolate has 6 mg. Eating these foods adds to the caffeine count. Checking labels helps to identify foods that contain caffeine to reduce their consumption or avoid them.

Monitor Your Seniors Intake

The healthy quota for daily caffeine is 400 milligrams or roughly four cups of brewed java, denotes the Mayo Clinic (total doesn’t include caffeine derived from other sources). Individuals exceeding that total may want to cut back, switch to decaf or both. Caregivers and loved ones should monitor how much and when seniors drink coffee and other caffeinated beverages and foods. Maintaining moderate levels is important to avoid unhealthy serious side effects and insomnia. 

Bad Habit to Break

While coffee is socially accepted and legal, it is still a stimulant drug. Over time, java drinkers become addicted and may need higher amounts to sustain the same “caffeine fix”. As seniors enjoy their coffee, they may want to hold onto an old habit. In addition, coffee withdrawal can result in headaches, fatigue, irritability and lack of concentration.  

Wean mature adults from too many cups of coffee by offering healthier alternatives such as Kombucha drinks that infuses antioxidants and probiotics and coconut water that contains electrolytes that fend against dehydration. Many supermarkets now stock a variety of healthy beverage options – many in the organic section. Introduce them as a special treat for your loved one.

Offer water with a slice of lemon or sparkling water as a refreshing, caffeine-free meal beverage. Serve in a nice glass with ice and insert a straw for fun. Suggest smoothies or milkshakes in a coffee flavor to satisfy taste buds.  Don’t keep the coffee maker brewing all day to make refills too easy. And avoid snacks that add to the caffeine count. 

Most seniors can continue to enjoy a cup or two of joe in the morning. For aging adults, especially those with chronic health conditions, it’s better to wake up and just smell the coffee than drink it all day.


» Read: Using Home Care Services to Promote an Age-Positive Attitude.


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