Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A drink or two every day can be good for elders

The over-65s should not be bullied into abstaining from alcohol by the belief that drink is more harmful to older people than it is to the young or middle-aged.

Regular, moderate drinking poses no additional risks to the over-65s and can even bring health benefits, according to two studies from the Peninsula Medical School in the South West of England. For men and women, better brain functioning, a better sense of wellbeing and fewer depressive symptoms are linked to moderate drinking when compared with abstinence.

Researchers led by Iain Lang assessed the drinking levels of more than 13,000 people in England and the US who were aged 65 and over, and looked at the effects on physical disability, mortality, cognitive function, depression and wellbeing. They concluded that moderate drinking is fine for the over-65s – and, in some cases, it is better than not drinking at all.

“We are not advocating that elderly people should go out and get ridiculously drunk,” Dr Lang said. “What we are saying is that current guidelines on drinking for the elderly are too conservative. A couple of drinks a day will do no harm and will have a more beneficial affect on cognitive and general health than abstinence. In the UK, the guidelines on alcohol consumption in older people are vague,” he said. “Alcohol Concern recommends that older people ‘cut down’ their alcohol consumption and that moderate consumption ‘might be too much for some older people’.

“In Australia and New Zealand, older people are advised to ‘consider drinking less’. In the US, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism sets limits for the over-65s of one drink a day, which is half of what they recommend for younger men.

“These recommendations are based on assumptions about what happens to the body as it ages, and that it becomes less tolerant of alcohol. Our findings show that this isn’t supported. There is no evidence to suggest drinking at moderate levels is harmful to older people. It can provide health benefits.”

The research showed that 10.8 per cent of the US men, 28.6 per cent of the British men, 2.9 per cent of the US women and 10.3 per cent of the British women drank more than one drink a day. But the research also showed that those drinking on average more than one to two drinks a day achieved similar health results as those drinking up to one drink a day.

“The worst results were from those who did not drink at all and from those who were heavy drinkers.

The studies also found lower levels of risk of death or disability among English drinkers than Americans, although the authors did not understand why this should be.

Men and women who drank moderately enjoyed better brain functioning, a better sense of wellbeing and fewer depressive symptoms than those who abstained. The shape of the relationship between alcohol consumption and the risk of disability were similar in men and women.

The results were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society and Age and Ageing. The research by the team concluded that overrestrictive limits could do harm because people ignore them or because effort is wasted trying to persuade them to give up alcohol when it is doing them no harm.

“Because overrestrictive limits risk encouraging nihilistic responses or fruitless clinical effort, a review is needed of the evidence base for the lower hazardous drinking definitions for older adults,” they concluded in their report in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Dr Lang said: “There is no reason why older people should not enjoy a tipple, as long as they are sensible about it.

“Previous research has shown that middle-aged people can benefit from moderate drinking. These findings show the same applies to the over-65s.”

Cheers and fears

— At least four countries – the US, Italy, Australia and New Zealand – have counselled older people to drink less than other adults

— The recommended limit in the US for people over65 is one drink a day – half of that for those aged under-65

— An analysis that included data from 116,702 people found no evidence that the old were at any greater risk of suffering harm from drinking

— Only 3.8 per cent of the over-70s engage in “binge drinking” the US Health and Retirement Study found. A binge was defined as four or more drinks on one occasion in the previous month

— A British study of the effect of ageing on daily activities found that those over-65s who were drinking more than two drinks a day had fewer problems than abstainers and better mental functioning

Source: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

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