A study has found that more than a third of drinkers 60 years old and older consume amounts of alcohol that are excessive or that are potentially harmful in combination with certain diseases they may have or medications they may be taking.
Basing their research on data from 3,308 older patients accessing primary care clinics around Santa Barbara, Calif., the authors at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA report that just as many individuals were at risk from alcohol consumption in combination with comorbidities or medication as from alcohol consumption alone.
The study, published in the current online edition of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, also found that at-risk drinking was associated with being younger, white and less educated.
"Compared to the U.S. Census population over age 60, the sample studied was more likely to be white, married, well-educated and high-income," said lead study author Andrew Barnes, a researcher in the UCLA School of Public Health's department of health services. "However, the adjusted associations of patient demographics with at-risk drinking found in our research should be more generalizable than the descriptive data published previously."
At-risk drinking was assessed using the Comorbidity Alcohol Risk Evaluation Tool (CARET), which categorizes older adults as at risk if they display at least one of the following drinking behaviors: they consume more than two drinks on most days; they consume one to two drinks on most days and have certain comorbidities, such as gout, hepatitis or nausea; they consume one to two drinks on most days and take select medications, such as antidepressants or sedatives.
"In summary, even among our relatively advantaged study patients, as many as one in three who continued to consume alcohol into older adulthood were at risk of harm from drinking," the researchers wrote. "Physicians may be less aware of other alcohol-related risk factors common among the elderly (e.g., interactions with select medications and comorbidities) than the risks associated with heavy drinking. Information suggesting which patients have the highest likelihood of at-risk drinking may assist physicians to better target patients for further screening and intervention."