A New Paradigm for Alcohol Use in Older Persons

Published in: Medical Care, v. 37, no. 2, Feb. 1999, p. 165-176

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 1998

by Alison A. Moore, Sally C. Morton, John Beck, Ron D. Hays, Sabine M. Oishi, Jennifer M. Partridge, Barbara Genovese, Arlene Fink

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Current paradigms for conceptualizing alcohol-related problems typically focus on persons who are abusing or dependent on alcohol. These paradigms may not apply to older drinkers whose alcohol use, regardless of consumption level, can cause problems because of age-related changes in physiology and interactions with increased morbidity, medication use, and functional limitations. The authors convened an expert panel to develop clinical indications of harmful, hazardous, and nonhazardous drinking in persons 65 years of age and older. Nine panelists with expertise in psychiatry, geriatrics, internal medicine, and alcohol research were provided with epidemiological data and a published explicit literature review of alcohol use in the elderly. The RAND/UCLA two-round panel method was used to develop the indications. After the second round, the authors wrote a draft statement that was circulated to the panelists whose comments were incorporated into a final document. Panelists agreed on 215 scenarios in which older peoples' use of alcohol either alone or in the presence of chronic medical conditions, medication use, symptoms, smoking, and functional limitations are hazardous or harmful. Panelists' ratings of risk did not differ significantly between persons aged 65 to 74 years and those aged 75 years and older. Alcohol use may be hazardous or harmful for older persons, particularly in conjunction with physical or emotional illnesses, medication use, functional limitations, smoking, and driving after drinking. When asking about alcohol use in older persons, clinicians need to be aware of these factors to assist in identifying and managing potential or actual alcohol-related problems.

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