• alcohol;
  • smoking;
  • tobacco;
  • elders;
  • emergency department

Objectives: To determine rates of alcohol and tobacco use among independent elder emergency department (ED) patients and assess the extent of health care use of this population. Methods: A convenience sample of independent elders (age ≥65 years) in an urban academic ED was enrolled. Patients were excluded if they were medically unstable or had a change in mental status. The Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence, and the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) scales were used to measure tobacco and alcohol use. Subjects completed questionnaires about their health and use of the health care system. Data were analyzed by using t-tests to compare independent variables. Results: A total of 565 subjects completed the study. Of these, 296 (52.4%) were male and 269 (47.6%) were female; mean age was 77.1 years. Fifty-four (9.5%) were smokers, and 22 (3.9%) were nicotine-dependent by the Fagerstrom test (Fagerstrom+). Alcohol use was reported at least once monthly by 176 (31.2%) and twice monthly by 76 (13.5%) patients; 12 (2.1%) were alcohol-dependent by the AUDIT scale (AUDIT+). Two (0.35%) were both Fagerstrom+ and AUDIT+. Fagerstrom+ subjects visited a physician less often than Fagerstrom− subjects (3.9 vs. 4.6 annual visits, p < 0.0009). AUDIT+ subjects visited a primary care physician less (3.3 vs. 4.2 annual visits, p < 0.007) or “any” physician less (3.9 vs. 4.6 annual visits, p < 0.01) than AUDIT− subjects. AUDIT+ and Fagerstrom+ subjects did not differ from AUDIT− and Fagerstrom− subjects in number of annual ED visits, self-reported general health, physical symptoms (except nervousness, p < 0.004), comorbid illnesses, hospital admissions, and injuries requiring treatment. Conclusions: Elder ED patients have low rates of nicotine and alcohol dependence. Nicotine- or alcohol-dependent elders use outpatient providers less often than nondependent elders but use EDs at the same rate and report similar health patterns.