Alcoholism in the elderly: a study of elderly alcoholics compared with healthy elderly and young alcoholics.

OBJECTIVES: To test the hypothesis that early-onset alcoholism can be differentiated from alcoholism in the elderly by more severe substance related problems, more frequent family history, higher mortality rate, and antisocial behaviour.

METHODS: 73 elderly (E) alcoholics (mean age 70.2 yrs) were compared with 90 young (Y) alcoholics (mean age 43.9 yrs) and 70 elderly non alcoholics (mean age 76 yrs). We focused on, family history (FH), co morbidity, mortality, biological markers (AST, GGT, MCV), and demographics. Geriatric Scale of Depression, Standardized Mini-Mental State Examination and Munich Alkoholism Test were also used. All results analysed by the SPSS.

RESULTS: FH was significantly (p<0.001) more often positive in Y (52%) than in E (15%) and C (10%). Significantly (p<0.001) more E (57.5%) are married than Y (37.8%) and C (21.4%), significantly (p<0.001) more E (72. 6%) has elementary education compared with Y (44.4%). E alcoholics abstain significantly (p<0.001) more (>27 months) than Y ones (approximately 11 months). Significantly (p<0.001) more Y (43%) had forensic history than E (8.2%). Significantly (p<0.01) more death rate was found in E (19.2%) than in Y (5.6%) and C (1.4%). Significantly (p<0.01) more E (61%) prefer spirits than Y (21%), but significantly more Y (>63%) combine spirits with beer and wine than E (>32%). Significantly (p<0.001) more alcoholics (E and Y) had elated levels of MCV (>70%), AST and GGT (>60%) than C. We have found significantly (p<0.001) higher rate of comorbidity of CNS diseases, GIT, injuries, haematological and infectious diseases in the groups of elderly and young alcoholics than in C subjects. On the other hand, prevalence of cardiovascular, ORL, ophtalmological, endocrine and orthopedic diseases were significantly (p<0.01) higher in C. To compare elderly patients with young ones, we found significantly (p<0.01) higher rate of respiratory, endocrine, cardiovascular and CNS diseases, and dementia in E alcoholics (p<0.001). Depression and abuse of prescribed medication was significantly (p<0.01) more often in the C, but suicide attempts, neurotic spectrum disorders and personality disorders were significantly (p<0.01) often in group of Y.

CONCLUSION: Young alcoholics have significantly more often positive FH, drink significantly bigger amounts of alcohol, have more forensic history, and personality disorders in comparison to elderly ones. On the other hand elderly alcoholics tend to have more somatic complication due to alcohol abuse, but drink less alcohol, tend to abstain longer, and have less psychopathic traits. In contrast to literature, the majority of elderly alcoholics are married, have low education and do not belong to high social classes.

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