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Education can reduce drinking in the elderly

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Providing seniors with personalized information about their drinking and health can effectively reduce their alcohol consumption and other drinking risks, new research found.

Although drinking tends to decline with age, many older adults drink more than the recommended amounts. It is well known that even relatively low levels of alcohol can cause adverse health effects in the elderly because of age-related physiological changes, and because alcohol interacts with common medications and medical conditions.

Dr. Arlene Fink from the David Geffen School of Medicine, at the University of California in Los Angeles, and her colleagues conducted a study in which they analyzed the effects of providing physicians and patients with reports on patient's alcohol use and of drinking risks and benefits. The investigators compared two experimental groups and one control group. Altogether, they studied 23 physicians and 665 patients 65 years of age or older.

In the "combined report" group, 6 physicians and 212 patients received reports of patients' alcohol use, risks and problems. Patients also received education based on their reports. In the "patient report" group, 245 patients received reports and education, but their 5 physicians did not receive any reports. In the third group, the control group, patients received usual care.

The investigators measured reductions in hazardous drinking (risks for problems), harmful drinking (presence of problems), and maintenance of nonhazardous drinking (no known risks for problems), at the beginning of the study and 12 months later, using a classification system known as Computerized Alcohol-Related Problems Survey.

The study showed that patients in the "patient report" group decreased their harmful drinking by 23 percent and increased their nonhazardous drinking by 12 percent. Patients in the "combined report" group decreased their drinking by more than one drink per week on average, and improved their drinking habits.

These results suggest that providing elderly patients with personalized reports of their drinking habits, together with educational information, can reduce their harmful drinking and increase nonhazardous drinking patterns. Providing similar information to physicians can also be effective in decreasing patient's total alcohol consumption, but it is not more effective than providing reports only to patients.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, November 2005

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