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Moderate Alcohol Consumption Prevents Disability in Seniors

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Moderate alcohol consumption in the elderly

According to new research, light to moderate alcohol consumption can prevent disability in healthy seniors. The results from a UCLA study showing that healthy seniors who drink less than 15 drinks per week and less than 5 drinks per day (less than four per day for women), have better overall health, and remain active longer compared to their counterparts who either drink heavily or abstain from drinking alcohol.

According Dr. Arun Karlamangla, an associate professor of medicine in the division of geriatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, "If you start out in good health, alcohol consumption at light to moderate levels can be beneficial. But if you don't start out healthy, alcohol will not give you a benefit."

The researchers extracted data from three separate segments of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey's Epidemiologic Follow-up Study from 1982–84, in 1987 and in 1992. The study included 4,276 people, split evenly to include men and women, with an average age of 60.4 years.

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Heavy drinking was defined as 15 or more drinks weekly, or five or more daily. Those who abstained had consumed less than twelve drinks the previous year.

Disability and drinking status of the seniors was evaluated at the beginning of the study. Fifty-one percent of men and 45 percent of women were light to moderate drinkers, thirty-two percent of men and 51 percent abstained from alcohol, and seventeen percent of men and 4 percent of women drank heavily. None of the seniors reported difficulties performing daily activities. At the end of five years, seven percent died and 15 percent became disabled.

The researchers discovered that seniors who consumed light to moderate amounts of alcohol were in good health, and experienced less disability, described as everyday tasks - difficulty grooming, dressing, walking, reaching or performing daily chores.

The authors write, "Light to moderate alcohol consumption appears to have disability prevention benefits only in men and women in relatively good health. "The reasons seem to be related to starting to drink alcohol in a current state of disability. "It is possible that those who report poor health have progressed too far on the pathway to disability to accrue benefits from alcohol consumption and that alcohol consumption may even be deleterious for them."

This is not the first study to show that drinking in moderation has health benefits, including promoting longevity. The UCLA study shows that light to moderate alcohol consumption may help seniors remain active and healthy, delaying the onset of disability.