A study published in the journal Addiction states that the effects of alcohol consumption in the elderly may be modified by a decreased ability to metabolise alcohol, an altered volume of distribution due to reduced lean body mass and total body water, and an increased prevalence of co-morbid conditions. Because of these factors, the authors argue that their current study of the net effects of drinking among a large number of community-dwelling elderly men and women is especially important.
In large prospective studies from Australia of men aged 60-79 and women aged 70-75 years of age, men consuming up to 4 drinks/day and women up to 2 drinks/day had considerably lower risk of dying (total mortality) than did non-drinkers. For subjects reporting 1-2 drinks/day, their total mortality risk was about 20-30% lower than that of abstainers.
While the authors concluded that not consuming alcohol on 1 or 2 days per week was associated with better outcomes, this conclusion is not in accordance with their own data. The benefit of one or two “alcohol-free” days per week has never been substantiated with solid evidence from any large epidemiological study.
The International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research review concludes that, in terms of total mortality risk, recommendations for very low levels of drinking among the elderly may be overly restrictive, as this study showed lower total mortality for up to 4 drinks/day for elderly men and 2 drinks/day for elderly women. Further, this study does not provide support for the conclusion that mortality is lower for people who have 1 or 2 “alcohol-free” days per week.
Reference: McCaul KA, Almeida OP, Hankey GJ, Jamrozik K, Byles JE, Flicker L. Alcohol use and mortality in older men and women. Addiction 2010. On-line prior to publication: doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.02972.x