According to The National Coffee Association, older adults drink more coffee than any other age group. Coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, chocolate, some medications and many other common foods and beverages contain caffeine. Caffeine is classified as a drug since it is a stimulant that works on the nervous system. Many debate if caffeine is healthy for the elderly. There is not a simple answer to this question. There are many health benefits as well as risks when it comes to caffeine. Like most things, moderation is key.
Caffeine is an antioxidant, which means it can help fight age-related oxidative damage. This can improve health in numerous ways, especially as you age. A study completed by the Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging, and Dementia (CAIDE) followed people from middle age into their seventies and older, and they found that caffeine may lower a senior’s lifetime risk of dementia. Another study completed by AARP and National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that people who regularly drank coffee had a lower overall risk of death. Some other potential benefits of drinking coffee include:
- Improved Cognition: There is evidence in the literature that caffeine may help prevent or manage cognitive decline in the elderly.
- Better mental health: There has been considerable research on caffeine and mental health, with several studies reporting low levels of depression in higher caffeine consumers (Wang et al., 2015; Grosso et al., 2016).
- Increased energy: Coffee offers a mood boost that can help you feel motivated and alert.
- A lower risk of stroke. One Study found that just one cup of coffee per week could lower stroke risk and heart failure.
The FDA recommends limiting caffeine to 400 milligrams per day. This is about four cups of coffee. Intake of more than the recommended daily amount of caffeine may cause adverse side effects. Older adults may be more likely to experience caffeine-related side effects if they have a medical history of migraines, urinary incontinence, frequent urination, muscle tremors, insomnia, stomach problems, anxiety, or restlessness. Some adverse side effects could include sleep disorders, fast heart rate, headaches, reduced bone strength, anxiety, heartburn, or feelings of unhappiness.
As mentioned above, one of the negative effects associated with caffeine is impaired sleep. Seniors often already have sleep disorders due to medications, dementia, depression, and anxiety. Research suggests that sleep disruption is noticeable when higher doses (>300 mg) of caffeine are consumed immediately before bed. To limit these sleep interruptions, it is recommended to cut off caffeine at least four hours before bedtime.
Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it increases activity in your central nervous system. This can make some elderly feel jittery or anxious, especially if they are already prone to anxiety. A few other risks of drinking caffeine include:
- Diarrhea and gastrointestinal problems. Coffee has a high acid content which may make acid reflux worse.
- Rapid heart rate, which may be a problem in people with heart arrhythmias.
- This can stress the kidneys and make bladder infections worse.
- Elevated blood pressure. This effect is temporary but may be dangerous in people with high blood pressure or serious cardiovascular health issues.
Coffee and tea may be associated with poor hydration status, but there is no supporting evidence that suggests it would necessarily lead to dehydration. In situations where someone just is not drinking enough water, drinking caffeinated beverages are acceptable. There are also many who are unfazed by the effects of caffeine. With most research supporting health benefits of caffein to the elderly it is safe to say caffeine can be beneficial. Just remember, caffeine is best to use in moderation and always follow medical professionals’ advice.
Maughan RJ, Griffin J. Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance: a review. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. 2003;16(6):411-420. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19774754/
Kromhout (Michelle), M.A., Rius Ottenheim, N., Putter, H. et al. Caffeine Consumption and Behavioral Symptoms in Nursing Home Residents: A Cross-Sectional Analysis. J Nutr Health Aging 25, 100–107 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-020-1436-y