Newswise — Just as the population of older adults is increasing worldwide, so too is the number of older adults who consume alcohol. Older adults are more sensitive to the adverse effects of alcohol due to age-related health impairment and physiological changes in metabolism and body composition. This study looked at how at-risk drinking among older adults changes over time.

Researchers compared drinking patterns among 2,268 Swedish 70-year-olds (932 men, 1336 women) during four periods of time as part of a study on health and aging. The four time periods were: 1976-77 (n=393), 1992-93 (n=248), 2000-02 (n=458), and 2014-16 (n=1169). Health-care professionals conducted face-to-face interviews with study participants and weekly alcohol consumption was estimated for the previous month. At-risk consumption was defined as ≥100 g alcohol/week, which roughly corresponded to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s definition of heavy consumption for individuals over 65 years old.

More recent groups of 70-year-olds in Sweden reported significantly higher levels of drinking than previous groups of 70-year-olds.  Although men were consistently heavier drinkers than women, the percentage increase over time was greater among women. The proportion of at-risk consumers among men increased from 16.1 percent in 1976-77 to 45.3 percent in 2014-16; among women, the proportion of at-risk consumers increased from 0.5 percent in 1976-77 to 24.3 percent in 2014-16. Wine consumption increased in   both genders between 2000-02 and 2014-16, while beer consumption increased among men between 2000-02 and 2014-16. The researchers recommended both public health and clinical initiatives that target older men and women, and strategies that support responsible alcohol consumption later in life.