Elder Adults Rarely Mention Their Alcohol Use With Their Physicians

Health and Fitness Hits

While many seniors may battle with alcoholism, a new study indicates that less than half of them share their drinking with their health care professionals.

"Older adults are particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol use, particularly those who have a pre-existing chronic condition or who take prescription medications," main study author Pia Mauro explained. This highlights the critical nature of "discussions regarding alcohol with providers" in this demographic, she explained. Mauro is an epidemiology assistant professor at Columbia University in New York City.

Mauro and his colleagues reviewed data from the 2015 to 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health on over 9,600 US people aged 65 and older (51% females, 49% males) who reported alcohol use and a recent health care visit for any reason.

In all, 54% did not disclose their alcohol usage to any provider (49 per cent of men, 58 per cent of women). Men were more likely than women to be asked about drinking problems (10% versus 7% ), counselled to cut back on drinking (7% versus 3% ), or supplied information about alcohol treatment among those who did discuss alcohol usage with their provider (2 per cent versus 0.7 per cent).

Men were found to have a greater rate of past-month binge drinking (22 per cent against 14 per cent) and past-year alcohol use disorder (4.5 per cent versus 2% ) than women.

At least one chronic illness was present in 74% of the older adults: 42% had high blood pressure, 28% had heart disease, 19% had cancer, and 18% had diabetes. Approximately 35% of those studied had two or more chronic illnesses, as shown by the published article, "Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research," appearing online on July 29, 2017.

As mentioned by senior author Benjamin Han, it is important that older people know that as they become older, they may be more sensitive to alcohol use, and some long-term illnesses may be worsened. Han is an assistant professor at UC San Diego's geriatrics, gerontology, and palliative care division.

Older Americans with chronic illnesses may be at a greater risk for developing unhealthy alcohol use, therefore it is essential for physicians to speak with these patients about their alcohol use, particularly those who have several health conditions, stated Dr Mauro in a Columbia College press release. Addressing stigma by having clinicians (in a non-judgmental manner) normalise conversations regarding alcohol use is critical to reducing its impact on the individual's well-being and health.

In addition, Mauro concluded that the results need the implementation of "tailored strategies" aimed at raising alcohol use conversations among older people and their healthcare professionals.

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