OBJECTIVES: Older adults can incur problems at low levels of alcohol consumption because of age-related physiological changes, declining health and functional status, and medication use. We have developed and tested a screening measure specifically for older people, the Alcohol-Related Problems Survey (ARPS), to identify older adults with these risks.
SETTING: Academic and community primary care clinics.
PARTICIPANTS: Five hundred forty-nine current drinkers aged 65 and older, mostly white with high school or more education.
MEASURES: Alcohol use was classified as harmful, hazardous, or nonhazardous depending upon consumption alone or combined with selected comorbidities and medication use. Harmful drinking (including alcohol abuse or dependence) means the presence of problems (e.g., hypertension, adverse drug events, legal problems) due to drinking. Hazardous drinking means risks for problems are likely. Nonhazardous drinking poses no known risks for problems.
RESULTS: Eleven percent of subjects were harmful drinkers and 35% were hazardous drinkers. Harmful drinking was more common in men than women and in persons younger than 75 than those aged 75 and older. Similar proportions of men and women and younger and older age groups were hazardous drinkers. Most harmful drinkers were identified by their use of alcohol with their comorbidity, whereas most hazardous drinkers were identified by their use of alcohol with medications. Test-retest reliability was substantial (κ = 0.65).
CONCLUSION: Physicians are urged to screen for alcohol-related problems in older persons. The ARPS reliably identifies harmful, hazardous, and nonhazardous drinking in older adults resulting most often from the interaction between alcohol and disease and medication use.