Higher quality of life seen among regular moderate drinkers than among abstainers
Data from a nationally representative sample of 5,404 community-dwelling Canadians ages 50 and older at baseline (1994/1995) was used to estimate the effects of alcohol drinking patterns on quality of life when subjects were aged =50 years and after a follow-up period. Health-related quality of life was assessed with the Health Utilities Index Mark 3 (HUI3). The authors report that most participants showed stable alcohol-consumption patterns over 6 years.
Detailed information was available on the participants’ alcohol consumption. Moderate drinkers were defined as those having 10 drinks per week with no more than 3 on any day for women and no more than 4 on any day for men. The repeated assessments allowed for the investigators to classify subjects according to changes over time in their drinking patterns, so that "persistent moderate drinkers" could be identified. 31.4% of the subjects decreased their intake over the follow-up period. The investigators also did secondary analyses among subjects who did not report any adverse health conditions (heart disease, cancer, stroke, or diabetes) during the first four years of follow up; these subjects were referred to as "consistently healthy."
Regular moderate drinkers had the highest indices of quality of life at baseline, but subsequent changes in quality of life indicators were similar in all groups except for those reporting decreasing alcohol consumption. The investigators conclude that regular moderate drinkers had higher initial levels of health-related quality of life than abstainers and those in other groups. However, rates of decline over time were similar for all groups except those decreasing their consumption from moderate levels, who showed a greater decline in their level of health-related quality of life than regular moderate users.
Alcohol intake and 'successful aging'
Among 13,894 women in the Nurses' Health Study, investigators prospectively examined alcohol use assessed at midlife in relation to "successful ageing," which was defined as survival to age 70 years, not having a major chronic disease (such as coronary disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes), and having no major cognitive impairment, physical impairment, or mental health problems. Only 11% of the women met these criteria.
The results indicate that moderate drinkers, especially those consuming wine and drinking regularly, were more likely to exhibit successful ageing. For average amount consumed, the largest benefit (an increase of 28%) was among women who reported 15.1 – 30 g of alcohol per day (an average of just over 1 to 2 1/2 drinks per day), when compared with non-drinkers. The frequency of drinking was especially important: in comparison with nondrinkers, women who drank only on 1 to 2 days per week had little increase in their risk of successful ageing, but those drinking on at least 5 days per week had almost a 50% greater chance of successful aging.
Forum reviewers had some questions about the definition of "successful ageing" used in this study. It is believed that a much greater percentage of people who may not meet these criteria make huge contributions to society and should be considered "successful."
In summary, these results support the findings of earlier studies showing that many aspects of successful aging, in addition to just survival, are favorably affected by regular, moderate consumption of alcohol.
Moderate Alcohol Consumption May Help Seniors Keep Disabilities at Bay
It is well known that moderate drinking can have positive health benefits — for instance, a couple of glasses of red wine a day can be good for the heart. But if you're a senior in good health, light to moderate consumption of alcohol may also help prevent the development of physical disability.
That's the conclusion of a new UCLA study, available in the online edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology, which found that light to moderate drinking among these seniors reduced their odds of developing physical problems that would prevent them from performing common tasks such as walking, dressing and grooming.
"If you start out in good health, alcohol consumption at light to moderate levels can be beneficial," said lead study author Dr. Arun Karlamangla, an associate professor of medicine in the division of geriatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "But if you don't start out healthy, alcohol will not give you a benefit."
The researchers based their study on data from three waves of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey's Epidemiologic Follow-up Study (1982–84, 1987 and 1992). The sample, which included 4,276 people split evenly between male and female, was about 92 percent white, with a mean age of 60.4 years.
Drinkers were classified as light to moderate if they consumed less than 15 drinks per week and less than five drinks per drinking day (less than four per day for women). Heavy drinkers were those who consumed 15 or more drinks per week or five or more per drinking day (four or more for women). Abstainers were those who drank fewer than 12 alcoholic beverages the previous year.
Having a physical disability means having trouble performing, or being unable to perform, routine tasks such as dressing and grooming, personal hygiene, arising, eating, walking, gripping, reaching, and doing daily errands and chores. Participants were asked if they experienced no difficulty, some difficulty, much difficulty or were unable to do these activities at all when alone and without the use of aids.
At the start of the survey, 32 percent of men and 51 percent of women abstained from drinking, 51 percent of men and 45 percent of women were light to moderate drinkers, and 17 percent of men and 4 percent women were heavy drinkers.
No one had any disabilities at the outset, but 7 percent died and 15 percent became disabled over five years.
The researchers found that light to moderate drinkers in good health had a lower risk for developing new disabilities, compared with both abstainers and heavy drinkers.
In unadjusted analyses, light to moderate drinkers had a 17.7 percent chance of becoming disabled or dying in five years, compared with 26.7 percent for abstainers and 21.4 percent for heavy drinkers. Among survivors, the risk for new disability was 12.5 percent for light to moderate drinkers, compared with 20 percent for abstainers and 15.6 percent for heavy drinkers.
However, after controlling for confounding variables such as age, smoking, exercise, heart attacks and strokes, the benefits of alcohol consumption were seen only in seniors who rated their health as good or better: There was a 3 to 8 percent reduction in the odds of developing disability with each additional drink per week in older men and women in good or better health who were not heavy drinkers, but there was no such benefit seen in those who rated their health as fair or poor.
"Light to moderate alcohol consumption appears to have disability prevention benefits only in men and women in relatively good health," the researchers wrote. "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."