OBJECTIVES: To estimate disability plus mortality risks in older people according to level of alcohol intake.
DESIGN: Two population-based cohort studies.
SETTING: The Health and Retirement Study (United States) and the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (England).
PARTICIPANTS: Thirteen thousand three hundred thirty-three individuals aged 65 and older followed for 4 to 5 years.
MEASUREMENTS: Difficulties with activities of daily living (ADLs), instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), poor cognitive function, and mortality.
RESULTS: One-tenth (10.8%) of U.S. men, 28.6% of English men, 2.9% of U.S. women, and 10.3% of English women drank more than the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommended limit for people aged 65 and older. Odds ratios (ORs) of disability, or disability plus mortality, in subjects drinking an average of more than one to two drinks per day were similar to ORs in subjects drinking an average of more than none to one drink per day. For example, those drinking more than one to two drinks per day at baseline had an OR of 1.0 (95% confidence interval (CI)=0.8–1.2) for ADL problems, 0.7 (95% CI=0.6–1.0) for IADL problems, and 0.8 (95% CI=0.6–1.1) for poor cognitive function. Findings were robust across alternative models. The shape of the relationship between alcohol consumption and risk of disability was similar in men and women.
CONCLUSION: Functioning and mortality outcomes in older people with alcohol intakes above U.S. recommended levels for the old but within recommendations for younger adults are not poor. More empirical evidence of net benefit is needed to support screening and intervention efforts in community-living older people with no specific contraindications who drink more than one to two drinks per day.