Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Alcohol consumption among older adults in primary care
A recent paper by Lang et al (AIM Digest May 2007) showed that people aged 65 or greater who averaged 1 to 2 drinks/day had no greater disability or mortality than subjects reporting up to 1 drink/day (and both groups had more favorable outcomes than non-drinkers).

A new study support the same finding. Of a very large group of adults over age 65 seen in primary care, those reporting between 8 and14 drinks/week (defined by some as “at-risk” drinking) did not differ significantly in their characteristics from drinkers consuming less. They also had similar indices of three health parameters evaluated: depressive/anxiety symptoms, perceived poor health, and poor social support.

The authors state that alcohol misuse is a growing public health concern for older adults, particularly among primary care patients. To determine alcohol consumption patterns and the characteristics associated with at-risk drinking in a large sample of elderly primary care patients, the authors carried out a cross-sectional analysis of multi-site screening data from 6 VA Medical Centers, 2 hospital-based health care networks, and 3 Community Health Centers. The final sample of persons with completed screens comprised 24,863 patients, aged 65 to 103 years. Quantity and frequency of alcohol use, demographics, social support measures, and measures of depression/anxiety were assessed.

70% of the adults screened reported no consumption of alcohol in the past year, 21.5% were moderate drinkers (1–7 drinks/week), 4.1% were at-risk drinkers (8–14 drinks/week), and 4.5% were heavy (>14 drinks/week) or binge drinkers. Heavy drinking showed significant positive association with depressive/anxiety symptoms [Odds ratio (OR) (95% CI): 1.79 (1.30, 2.45)] and less social support [OR (95% CI): 2.01 (1.14, 2.56)]. Heavy drinking combined with binging was similarly positively associated with depressive/anxiety symptoms [OR (95%): 1.70 (1.33, 2.17)] and perceived poor health [OR (95% CI): 1.27 (1.03,1.57)], while at-risk drinking was not associated with any of these variables.

The authors conclude that among alcohol users, at-risk drinkers did not differ significantly from moderate drinkers in their characteristics or for the 3 health parameters evaluated. In contrast, heavy drinking was associated with depression and anxiety and less social support, and heavy drinking combined with binge drinking was associated with depressive/anxiety symptoms and perceived poor health.

Source: Kirchner JE, et al.. Alcohol consumption among older adults in primary care. J Gen Intern Med 2007;22:92–97

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