Alcohol consumption and related injuries are increasing among the elderly
The number of alcohol-related injuries among the elderly is increasing, since sensitivity to alcohol and the risk of injuries and diseases rise with age.
This is shown by a new report from bodies including the University of Gothenburg, which also establishes that there is no truth in the common conception that moderate alcohol consumption could be beneficial.
The report Alkohol och äldre (“Alcohol and older people”) was written by group of prominent alcohol researchers who have reviewed a large number of international studies on alcohol linked to health. The report addresses the growing sensitivity to the effects of alcohol among the elderly, which – in combination with ageing – increases the risk of diseases and accidents, even in the case of relatively low consumption.
The main reasons for elderly people’s heightened sensitivity to the immediate and long-term effects of alcohol include physiological and bodily changes, as well as medical factors.
One example of how sensitivity increases with age is that body weight often falls when people grow old, meaning that the alcohol level in the blood will be higher when they drink the same amount as before.
In addition, changes in the function of the liver, slower reactions and medication for multiple chronic diseases mean that the alcohol level in the blood is higher and the risk of injuries at a certain alcohol level increases. This also means that the risk of diseases and accidents is heightened even by relatively small quantities of alcohol.
As the proportion of elderly people in society rises, this is becoming a growing social problem. The writers of the report offer several recommendations for how politicians can influence this trend, including raising the price of alcohol and restricting advertising.
“Since elderly people represent a growing section of the population, are more sensitive to alcohol intake and use medication that can interact with alcohol to a greater extent, it is important to provide information about the health risks associated with alcohol intake,” explains Frida Dangardt, a physician and researcher at Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital in Gothenburg and one of the six Swedish and international researchers behind the report. “Here, primary care is an important task and has a great opportunity to influence public health.”
Elderly people in Sweden drink more than before. The report highlights a significant increase in heavy consumption among 75-year-olds. Between 1977 and 2006, the proportion of elderly women with heavy consumption rose from 1% to 10%. For elderly men, the corresponding figure rose from 19% to 27%.
“There is considerable interest in health and lifestyle among all age groups,” adds Gunnel Hensing, Vice Director of the Center for Education and Research on Addiction (CERA) at the University of Gothenburg.
“This report is an excellent source of information for people over the age of 60, giving them more knowledge about how alcohol affects health and enabling them to make decisions on their own alcohol consumption.”
The report Alkohol och äldre (“Alcohol and older people”) is part of the Alcohol and Society series, which aims to illustrate in a scientific manner the effects of alcohol consumption on individuals and society. The series is published by the Swedish Society of Medicine, the Swedish Society of Nursing, the Responsibility for the Future Foundation, IOGT-NTO and the Center for Education and Research on Addiction (CERA) at the University of Gothenburg.
The report in English can be downloaded from CERA’s website - https://cera.gu.se/digitalAssets/1719/1719443_report_alcohol_and_older_people_2019.pdf with other reports in the series at https://cera.gu.se/samverkan/rapporter#A
31 March 2019.