Over the summer, Amy Bollinger noticed a concerning trend at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. The injury prevention coordinator saw that people over the age of 55 were seriously injuring themselves after drinking excessively.

“We’re talking about blood alcohol levels two and three times the legal limit,” she said. “They’re falling down stairs, falling in bathrooms, falling just getting off a sofa…or driving their cars.”

Last year, they saw 450 seniors due to alcohol-related injuries at their trauma center. This year, they’re on track to see more than 600. They see women mostly abusing wine and men choosing beer or hard alcohol.

“This is not ‘I fell and hurt my wrist,” Bollinger said. “This is ‘I fell and I have rib fractures and I collapsed a lung.’ This is ‘I fell in the bathroom and hit my head and now I have a brain bleed.’ Broken hips, liver lacerations…we’re talking profound injuries that are life-limiting and sometimes life-ending. People are dying.”

Bollinger says as we age, our flexibility and balance change. So does our ability to metabolize alcohol.

“If you’re a senior, if you’re over the age of 55 and you enjoy a drink in the evening, we’re not talking about that,” Bollinger said. “We’re talking about four, five drinks a night understanding that you’re impaired. Your ability to metabolize alcohol is much lower than it was 20 years ago and you need to know that.”

They theorize that the pandemic left more people feeling lonely and, though that isolation, seniors turned more to alcohol.

Bollinger says you should check in on elderly family members and pay special attention to bruising, changes in behavior or increasing social isolation.

For more information about drinking awareness, click here.

To access a substance abuse hotline, click here.