Alcohol and older people. A descriptive analysis of changes in alcohol use in older New Zealanders from 2004 to 2009

This report examines the changes in alcohol use in New Zealand for  older New Zealanders (aged 60 years and over), and the association of these changes with socio-economic and deprivation factors, living arrangements and chronic health conditions. The report uses data from the Statistics New Zealand Survey of Family Income and Employment (SoFIE), covering the period from 2002 to 2010.

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Commissioning agencies
Date of last publication
Jun 2014
Organisation conducting the research
School of Population Health at the University of Otago (Wellington)

Purpose

The objective of this report is to examine the changes in alcohol use in New Zealand for older men and women aged 60 years and over, and the association of these changes with socio-economic and deprivation factors, living arrangements and chronic health conditions. The report uses data from the Statistics New Zealand Survey of Family Income and Employment (SoFIE) and the SoFIE-Health sub-study, covering the period from 2002 to 2010.

Methodology

SoFIE was a household panel survey that began in 2002 and finished in 2010, with the first wave of data collection undertaken from October 2002 to September 2003 and the final (eighth) wave undertaken from October 2009 to September 2010. Information was collected once a year from the same individuals on their income levels, sources and any changes to these; on the major influences on their income, such as employment and education experiences, household and family status and any changes to these; and on demographic factors and health status. A series of health questions was asked in Waves 3, 5 and 7, the SoFIE-Health sub-study. The sample population used for the analyses in this paper was SoFIE participants who were original sample members at Wave 1 who responded in all of the health modules in Waves 3, 5 and 7, giving a sample size of 3,465 adults aged 60 years or older at baseline – Wave 3 (this sample would be aged 62 years or older at Wave 5 and 64 years or older at Wave 7).

As part of the health module asked in Waves 3, 5 and 7, participants who had had a drink containing alcohol in the last 12 months were asked how many days in the last four weeks they had drunk alcohol (i.e. frequency); and how many drinks containing alcohol they had consumed on a typical day when they were drinking. This information was used to calculate the average weekly consumption of alcohol. Participants were also specifically asked whether they had ever had eight or more (for men), or six or more (for women), standard drinks on one occasion (defined here as risky drinking) and, if so, on how many occasions they had engaged in risky drinking in the last four weeks. The frequency of risky drinking in those who reported drinking in the past 12 months was categorised as: never risky; risky one to two times a month; risky weekly; or risky weekly to daily.

The current low-risk alcohol drinking advice from ALAC/HPA for adults (including young adults aged 18-24 years) is that, to reduce their long-term health risks:

  • women should drink no more than two standard drinks a day and no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and have at least two alcohol-free days every week
  • men should drink no more than three standard drinks a day and no more than 15 standard drinks a week, and have at least two alcohol-free days every week.

For older adults, drinking guidelines worldwide have increasingly identified a threshold for risky drinking that is, either a reduction in drinking units from the standard set for the general adult population (Moos, 2004) or simply a proposal that older adults drink less than general population standards.

 

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