Enjoy your coffee — in moderation

For many older adults, coffee is a part of their daily routine that has carried on from their younger years. Those seniors take comfort in a hot cup of coffee as a part of their lifestyle that they can still hold on to when they have been forced to give up so many other things that they loved in their youth. While regular coffee in limited amounts is not a bad thing — and can even have some benefits for seniors — too much coffee is bad for anyone, especially older adults.

It’s no secret that regular coffee contains the drug caffeine, a stimulant which gives coffee its boost. Caffeine is the reason we feel more mentally alert and focused after that first cup of morning coffee, and that alertness can help improve brain functions. Some research has shown that caffeine working in conjunction with other chemicals in coffee can prevent the chemical changes in the body associated with Parkinson’s disease.

Other studies suggest that middle-aged adults who begin drinking coffee can cut their risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in their later years. However, these benefits are not related to caffeine and are found in dark roast coffee. Studies looking into caffeine’s effects on Alzheimer’s and dementia are being conducted.

Coffee, both caffeinated and decaffeinated, can decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes when three to four cups are consumed daily without cream or sugar. Coffee has also been shown to benefit other conditions, such as depression, cardiovascular disease and liver disease. Too much cream, sugar or other additives, however, can negatively affect liver and kidney functions.

Although caffeine is a legal drug and unregulated, like any other drug it can be addictive, and coffee drinkers trying to cut back can experience signs of withdrawal. Because it is legal and socially accepted, many people fail to understand the effects caffeine can have on the body when not used in moderation.

Those experiencing caffeine addiction, both seniors and younger people, may build up a tolerance and require more and more of the stimulant to acquire its desired caffeine rush. This can lead the user to become jittery, anxious or irritable. Headaches and even heart palpitations can occur. Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal can also include headaches and irritability, as well as problems with focus and concentration.

Too much coffee can also lead to dehydration in older adults since caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that it stimulates the body to produce urine. This can be particularly serious for older adults who are already at risk for dehydration because of other age-related causes.

Another danger for seniors can be the way caffeine interacts with prescription medications, making them less effective in some cases and amplifying their effects in others. Caffeine’s effect on the body’s nervous system can also worsen the impact of some medical conditions experienced by seniors such as high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, gastritis and migraines.

Because our metabolisms slow as we age, the bodies of older adults take longer to process caffeine, which means it stays in their systems longer. Drinking a cup of coffee in the afternoon could cause problems falling asleep at night because the caffeine from that cup of coffee hasn’t yet been fully metabolized at bedtime. That means it’s always a good idea to limit drinking coffee to the morning.

It’s also wise to check other foods and drinks for caffeine content. Studies indicate that most seniors can safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day. That’s equal to about two to three 8-ounce cups of coffee. The problem is that caffeine can be found in more than just coffee. It’s in everything from chocolate, tea and cola to pain relievers and protein bars. The problems start when an older person eats a chocolate bar or drinks a can of cola on top of those two to three cups of coffee.

Switching to decaffeinated coffee is one way to reduce caffeine consumption. Another is to try alternatives such as water, smoothies or other caffeine-free beverages. Many of those sold now contain electrolytes to prevent dehydration.


Information provided by Visiting Angels, America’s choice in homecare. Visiting Angels non-medical homecare services allow people to continue enjoying the independence of their daily routines and familiar surroundings. To set up an appointment for a no-obligation in-home assessment, call 330-332-1203.


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