Even low alcohol levels slow reactions in seniors

Recently reported research
published in BMC Research Notes has quantified the effect of alcohol
consumption on obstacle avoidance. The study demonstrates that even blood alcohol concentrations below accepted drink-driving limits – 0.08% in the UK but subject to some recent debate – significantly
impact on the ability of senior individuals to avoid obstacles while walking.

Even low alcohol concentrations affect obstacle avoidance reactions in healthy senior individuals
Judith Hegeman, Vivian Weerdesteyn, Bart JF van den Bemt, Bart Nienhuis, Jacques van Limbeek, Jacques Duysens
BMC Research Notes 2010, 3:243 (23 September 2010)

Thirteen
participants with an average age of 61.5 years completed an
obstacle-avoidance task on a treadmill after consuming alcohol. Researchers measured the
response time of the biceps femoris (the main muscle involved in obstacle
avoidance) and found that blood alcohol concentrations of 0.035% upwards
resulted in significantly slower response times.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, slower reactions were reflected in a reduced ability to avoid obstacles, leading the researchers to suggest that many
alcohol-related falls are due to alcohol’s disruptive effect on corrections to the ongoing gait pattern under challenging walking conditions. The conclusion? Even limited alcohol
consumption considered safe for driving puts seniors at increased risk of falling.

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