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Older people are drinking increasingly more alcohol than before
A large proportion of older people state that they drink alcohol twice a week or more. The difference in alcohol use between men and women is also getting smaller.
In recent decades, alcohol consumption among older adults has increased in both Norway and Scandinavia.
In the Scandinavian countries, this trend started first in Denmark in the 1970s. Just over a decade later, the same happened in Sweden and Norway.
The increase was greatest in the period leading up to around 2005. Since then, alcohol consumption among the elderly has been more stable.
“In Norway, over 80 per cent of older people between the ages of 60 and 79 state that they drink alcohol. Around one in four said they drink twice a week or more frequently. We also see that the gender differences in alcohol use are becoming less pronounced,” Professor Terje Emil Fredwall at the Centre for Care Research at the University of Agder says.
Together with colleague Anne Jørstad Antonse, he conducted a scoping review on alcohol use among older adults. It is based on 51 research and development studies on the subject.
The last time such a large scoping review was published in Norway was in 2011.
Drink more frequently, but in small amounts
When older people drink alcohol, it is usually wine. It is most common to drink one to two units per session.
Two-thirds of older women over 60 and around half of men report this.
“Generally speaking, we can say that older people in Norway drink alcohol more frequently than before, but in relatively small quantities. There is still a larger proportion of older men who drink - and who drink frequently - compared to women,” Fredwall says.
Research shows that alcohol is often associated with social engagement, gatherings, and enjoyment of life in the elderly.
However, several of the studies show that alcohol use can also be associated with difficulties such as social isolation, stress and illness, or life transitions such as retirement and bereavement.
There is often not enough knowledge
Alcohol consumption is one of the most important risk factors for the loss of healthy years of life and non-communicable diseases, both for young and old.
However, alcohol use can be particularly challenging for the elderly. As we get older, our metabolism slows down. Both body mass and the proportion of fluid in the body decrease.
“The studies we have reviewed show that older adults often don’t recognise or have insufficient knowledge about the risks associated with drinking alcohol. Existing health challenges, as well as the risk of accidents and fall-related injuries, can be exacerbated when you drink," research fellow Anne Jørstad Antonsen says.
She explains that there are also a number of possible negative consequences for the elderly who combine alcohol with the use of medication.
Just under one in three individuals in Norway over the age of 65 who report drinking once or more times a week also indicate that they use potentially addictive medication.
The use of such medicines seems to increase somewhat the more often one drinks.
“It could be that older people don’t know enough about the risks of using alcohol and psychotropic drugs. The studies indicate that the use is downplayed and rationalised as something older people 'just do'. In that case, it is also important to be aware that older adults are more vulnerable to serious side effects from simultaneous use than younger people,” Fredwall says.
Fredwall, T.E. & Antonsen, A.J. Alkoholbruk blant eldre: En oppsummering av kunnskap (Alcohol use among the elderly: A summary of knowledge), Omsorgsbiblioteket (the Care Library), 2023.
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