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Even Moderate Drinking Puts Many Older Adults at Risk

Regular alcohol use may harm those over 60 with health issues, prescription meds, research shows

WEDNESDAY, April 28 (HealthDay News) -- Although one to two alcoholic drinks a day is often considered safe or possibly even beneficial for health, this habit may put many older adults at risk, a new study has found.

Older adults are considered "at risk" if they have at least one of the following drinking behaviors: they consume more than two drinks a day; they consume one to two drinks on most days and have certain health problems, such as gout, hepatitis or nausea; they consume one or two drinks on most days and take certain medications, such as antidepressants or sedatives.

University of California, Los Angeles researchers analyzed data from more than 3,300 patients aged 60 and older who went to primary care clinics near Santa Barbara, Calif., and found that:

  • 34.7 percent of the patients were at risk due to drinking alone or drinking in combination with existing health problems or medications, and 19.5 percent fell into multiple risk categories.
  • Of those at risk, over 56 percent were in at least two risk categories, and 31 percent were in all three risk categories.
  • At-risk drinking was 2.5 times more likely among patients who had not graduated from high school than among those who had completed graduate school.
  • Patients with annual household incomes between $80,000 and $100,000 were 1.5 times more likely to be at risk than those with incomes under $30,000.
  • Those 80 or older were about half as likely to be at risk as patients between 60 to 64 years old.
  • At-risk drinking was less than half as common among Asians as among whites.

The study was published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

"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," lead study author Andrew Barnes, a researcher in the UCLA School of Public Health's department of health services, and colleagues 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," they concluded.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about aging and alcohol.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of California, Los Angeles, news release, April 2010

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