The health-related effects of alcohol use in older persons: A systematic review
Increased alcohol consumption is associated with substantial morbidity and mortality in young and middle-aged adult populations, but its effects on the health of older adults have received less attention. The objective of the study was to review published studies that assessed the effects of alcohol on falls or fall injuries, functional impairment, cognitive impairment, and all-cause mortality among older adults. MEDLINE database and bibliographies of selected citations were searched for English language studies published between 1966 and 1998 that examined the relationship between alcohol and one or more of the above outcomes. Also a study was analyzed if it included participants 60 years of age or older, or a broader age range of participants and reported results for older subgroups, or predominantly older participants as evidenced by a mean age of 65 years of age or above. Information on studies' sample sizes, exposure and outcome measures, and risk estimates were extracted, and articles were evaluated for methodologic quality using predetermined criteria. Eighty-four studies were identified that examined 91 potential exposure-outcome associations including falls or fall injuries (n = 26); functional impairment (n = 13); cognitive impairment (n = 32); and all-cause mortality (n = 20). The percentage of studies demonstrating harm, no association, or benefit by outcome included falls (15% vs. 81% vs. 4%); functional disability (38% vs. 46% vs. 16%); cognitive impairment (31% vs. 66% vs. 3%); and all-cause mortality (15% vs. 65% vs. 20%). Studies (n = 84) inconsistently adhered to methodologic standards. Although 90% provided eligibility criteria; 61% cited participation rates; and 73% described the methods used to measure alcohol exposure; only 44% adjusted for potentially important confounding factors; and 26% distinguished former drinkers from nondrinkers. Of the cohort studies (n = 47), 30% assessed for change in participants' exposure status over time, and 17% determined whether losses to follow-up varied by exposure status. The magnitude of risk posed by alcohol use for falls or fall injuries, functional disability, cognitive impairment, and all-cause mortality among older adults remains uncertain. Prospective studies are needed to better define the health-related effects of alcohol use in older populations.