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Older people with alcohol problems improve quality of life through alcohol treatment

29.11.2023 - Research shows it's never too late to start. Older citizens with alcohol abuse can be helped to a better quality of life.

Consuming slightly fewer drinks and participating in a treatment program makes a difference for citizens over 60 years old with significant alcohol consumption. This is indicated by new research from the University of Southern Denmark.

A long life with alcohol abuse may seem impossible to change. And can you teach an old dog new tricks? When it comes to older people with alcohol abuse, researchers say it's a common misconception that it's futile to try to convince them to undergo treatment.

Now, a study from the Research Unit for Clinical Alcohol Research at SDU shows that it is beneficial.

Treatment increases quality of life

Older people who undergo treatment experience an improved quality of life. This is true whether they completely stop drinking or just cut down on consumption.

"Our study will hopefully help to dispel a myth; namely, that older people with alcohol abuse should not necessarily go into treatment, based on a misguided consideration that alcohol might be the last thing they have left that gives quality of life," says Jeppe Tryggedsson, a candidate in public health science and PhD student at the Research Unit for Clinical Alcohol Research, who is the lead author of the study.

In the research project, he and his colleagues looked at data from older people in alcohol treatment, where the citizens responded to questions about their quality of life during the process. The citizens were followed for up to a year after they started treatment.

"Sometimes complete abstinence is not realistic, as we are dealing with alcohol-dependent patients. Even if you have a high starting point, even a reduction has an effect. So both the treatment itself and the time after treatment are important," says Jeppe Tryggedsson.

The improvement in quality of life is not large when quantified, but it is there and shows, according to Jeppe Tryggedsson, that it is worthwhile to treat older people with alcohol abuse. And it certainly does not decrease their quality of life.

"We see that both those who completely quit alcohol and those who cut down experience higher quality of life. And they do so on all parameters, both psychologically, physically, socially, and environmentally."

Doctors and therapists should address abuse

Jeppe Tryggedsson believes that the result can be used to open the eyes of therapists and doctors to the fact that it makes sense to push for older people with alcohol abuse to go into treatment.

"When they, so to speak, notice something in the patients that smells of alcohol, they should bring it up and not be afraid to address possible abuse. They are actually doing the patients a service, even if they may not believe it."

Three benefits of cutting down on alcohol:

  • Improved Health: Reducing alcohol consumption can lead to improved physical and mental health. Alcohol abuse is associated with a variety of health problems, including liver damage, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mental health issues. Reducing alcohol consumption decreases the risk of these health problems.

  • Better Quality of Life: Reduced alcohol consumption can lead to increased quality of life. Alcohol abuse can negatively affect relationships, work, and overall happiness. Limiting alcohol consumption can improve family life, career opportunities, and personal well-being.

  • Economic Benefits: Alcohol is often a significant expense. By reducing alcohol consumption, significant amounts of money can be saved, which can be used for other purposes, such as travel, education, or future investments.

About the Study

The researchers used data from the Elderly study, a multinational clinical randomized controlled trial, conducted from January 2014 to May 2016. Data were collected from six different treatment institutions in three different countries: Denmark (Copenhagen, Aarhus, and Odense), Germany (Munich and Dresden), and the USA (Albuquerque, New Mexico). A total of 693 patients aged 60 or older participated in the study.

The patients were treated for alcohol abuse through a conversation-based therapy form that focuses on strengthening the level of motivation to change behavior and promote engagement in the treatment process. Patients answered questionnaire interviews at the start of treatment and were subsequently followed up 4 weeks, 12 weeks, 6 months, and 12 months later. Here, information was collected on sociodemographic conditions, alcohol consumption, quality of life, and much more.

Want to know more?

Read more about the study in the scientific article.

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