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University of Iowa News Release

Aug. 10, 2006

UI Study: No Negative Effect Of Moderate Drinking In Older Adults

Moderate drinking, such as one alcoholic drink per day, does not appear to have any negative health outcomes and may be beneficial to some older adults according to a University of Iowa study.

Several past studies have linked moderate drinking to health benefits in adults such as lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. While the number of older Americans is steadily increasing -- those age 65 and older will make up 20 percent of the U.S. population by 2030 -- little is known about the alcohol consumption patterns and effects of alcohol on older adults.

"Our goal was to find out how much older Americans drink and how it relates to health outcomes," said Carolyn Turvey, Ph.D., lead investigator and assistant professor of psychiatry in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

The UI study examined the two-year health outcomes related to alcohol use in 7,434 adults age 70 and older. Participants were surveyed about their health status, lifetime alcohol or psychiatric problems, presence of chronic illness, functional impairment and depressive symptoms. This information was collected on two occasions, with the second time occurring two years after baseline data collection.

Approximately 44 percent of those surveyed reported any alcohol use in the three months prior to the survey, and most reported drinking less than daily. The percentage of negative health outcomes such as stroke, heart disease and diabetes was higher among the non-drinkers and lower among the moderate drinkers. Cognitive function was higher, and depression was lower, among the moderate drinkers, as well. In contrast, the percentage of study participants who reported being current smokers increased among those who reported having more than one drink per day. Although those who drank also smoked, drinking moderately did not increase the chance of negative health outcomes two years later.

"Overall, moderate drinking was not associated with negative health outcomes at the two-year follow-up in this study," Turvey said. "However, this observation may be somewhat biased because the older adults who are drinking moderately tend to be healthier overall in late life. Also, the follow-up period may have been too brief." Turvey did note that the long-term analyses controlled for baseline health status, but no negative outcomes emerged.

About 55 percent of those interviewed reported no drinking. Cessation of drinking among the older adults surveyed was associated with poor health, medication use or being an ex-drinker.

Turvey said more research is needed to clarify the means by which alcohol use may benefit health in late-life. "We need to continue to look at the benefits of moderate drinking among the oldest old, while keeping in mind the socio-economic factors, because they are strongly tied with health outcomes and drinking patterns," she said.

UI co-authors on the study are Susan Schultz, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry, and Dawn Klein, research assistant in psychiatry.

The study was conducted as part of the Health and Retirement Survey funded by the National Institute on Aging. The results appeared in the March issue of Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at http://www.uihealthcare.com.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5139 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: David Pedersen, 319-335-8032, david-pedersen@uiowa.edu. Writer: Andrea Schreiber