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Many Older Adults Drink Too Much

Wed Nov 3, 2004

By Alison McCook

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Between one-quarter and one-half of adults in their 50s and 60s drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol, putting them at risk of problems related to their drinking, according to new research.

Among older adults who drank too much, men were more likely than women to experience problems such as ruptured relationships, or difficulties with day-to-day activities. These findings suggest that drinking guidelines, many of which currently allow men more drinks per week than women, should be equally stringent for both genders, the authors note.

"The guidelines for alcohol use should be no more liberal for older men than for older women," study author Dr. Rudolf H. Moos told Reuters Health.

Currently, the Department of Agriculture recommends no more than two drinks per day for men, and one for women. Similarly, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends a limit of fourteen drinks per week for men, and seven for women.

The American Geriatrics Society defines dangerous drinking for older adults as more than one drink per day, or more than seven drinks per week, or more than three drinks on any occasion.

To investigate how many older adults follow these guidelines, Moos and his colleagues asked 1,291 drinkers between the ages of 55 and 65 how much they typically drank, then re-contacted them 10 years later to see if their drinking patterns had changed.

The investigators also asked people if they had had any problems related to their drinking, such as family members or friends telling them they were worried about how much they drank, or if alcohol had interfered with their functioning, by causing them to fall or neglect other activities for instance.

People who said alcohol had created at least two problems in their lives were considered to have a drinking problem. The researchers report their findings in the American Journal of Public Health.

Moos and his team found that, depending on which guideline they used, between 23 and 50 percent of women drank more than they should, as did between 29 and 45 percent of men.

"A moderately high proportion of older women and men may engage in potentially unsafe patterns of alcohol use," said Moos, who is based at the VA Health Care System in Menlo Park, California.

Among people who exceeded any of the guidelines, men were more likely to have problems than women.

Previous research has suggested that men are more likely to drink in unhealthy ways, such as drinking quicker, drinking outside of meals, downing every drink they are served, and drinking more in a shorter period.

"Thus, even though they consume a comparable number of drinks, men may engage in alcohol use behaviors associated with higher levels of alcohol consumption, resulting in more harmful alcohol use consequences," Moos and his team write.

They conclude that alcohol consumption guidelines for older adults -- both men and women -- should be no more than seven drinks per week and no more than three drinks "per heavy-use occasion."

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, November 2004.

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