People over 50 years of age who can be described as 'successful agers' (i.e. they have higher educational achievement, and are non-smokers, healthy, sociable, physically active, and well off) are at an increased risk of harmful drinking than their less successful peers, revealed a research published in BMJ Open.
The findings of the study suggest that harmful drinking is a 'middle class phenomenon'. Researchers warn that it may be a hidden health and social problem in otherwise successful older people. They have called for explicit guidelines on alcohol consumption for this group. For the study, Professor José Iparraguirre from the Research Department of Age UK analyzed the drinking habits and other lifestyle information of more than 9,000 adults aged over 50 years of age. This data came from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Considering that alcohol consumption is rising steadily among older people in England, the research team looked for possible links between people's drinking habits and their age, income, lifestyle and social situation.
AdvertisementThe researchers defined higher risk drinking following the guidelines set out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NICE suggests that having more than 50 units of alcohol per week for men (equivalent to five or more bottles of wine per week or 16 pints or more of strong lager), and over 35 units per week for women (equivalent to three-and-half bottles of wine or 11 pints or more of strong lager) should be classified as harmful drinking.
Several socioeconomic factors were found to be associated with harmful or high risk alcohol consumption behavior among older people. The results suggested different patterns among men and women.
Age- Women between 50 to 90 years of age were less likely to be high risk drinkers. On the contrary, men's risk of harmful drinking peaked in their mid 60s, before declining. The researchers said, "These patterns suggest that the current group of over 50s may be carrying on levels of higher consumption developed in their younger years, in later life."
Education- Researchers also observed that achieving higher educational attainment and smoking could be linked to being in the higher risk drinking category.
Income- Higher income was associated with high risk drinking among women. But this did not hold true in case of men.
Employment status- Researchers were unable to find any link between having a job and higher risk drinking. But, they suggested that retirement increased the chances of harmful drinking for women.
Marital status- Men who were single, separated or divorced were more likely to be in the higher risk drinking category. This was found to be more common among men of white ethnicity.
Mental health- Loneliness and depression was not associated with higher risk drinking in either sex.
Caring responsibilities- Having caring responsibilities lowered a woman's probability of being in the higher risk group.
Religious belief- It did not affect the drinking habits among men or women.
Smoking, higher educational attainment, and good health were all linked to increased risk of harmful drinking in both sexes.
Professor Jose Iparraguirre said, "Our findings suggest that harmful drinking in later life is more prevalent among people who exhibit a lifestyle associated with affluence and with a 'successful' ageing process. Because this group is typically healthier than other parts of the older population, they might not realize that what they are doing is putting their health in danger."
When the research team analyzed the changes in alcohol consumption between the two waves of the survey, they found that for women, being younger and having a higher income can be associated with the likelihood of becoming a higher risk drinker over time.
For men, these transition patterns were similar, except that having caring responsibilities, lower income, loneliness and older age increased the likelihood of no longer drinking at high risk levels by wave 2 of the survey.
However, the study had certain limitations. The researchers cautioned that since the study produced a lot of results, there is always a possibility of chance findings. Also, the study followed people for a maximum of three years. Studies tracking drinking behavior among people over longer periods of time might show different patterns. The researchers also pointed out that the ELSA study only recorded weekly rather than daily alcohol consumption.