Objective: To examine the effect of alcohol abuse on the subsequent health status of elderly patients seen in an emergency department (ED).
Patients and methods: A sample of 966 patients aged 65 or older who presented to one urban academic ED between the hours of 8 A.M. and 12 midnight was followed for 1 year. A personal interview was administered during the ED visit. Current problem drinkers had a score of 1 or greater on the CAGE questionnaire at ED presentation and drank within the prior 6 months; former problem drinkers had a score of 1 or greater on the CAGE questionnaire at ED presentation and a last drink more than 6 months previously. We used 13 items from the Medical Outcomes Study short form adapted to the ED setting and 6 items from the Index of Activities of Daily Living (ADL) to measure health status.
Results: In multivariate models for repeated-measures controlling for potential confounding factors, current problem drinkers had worse overall health (parameter estimate beta -3.6; 95% CI -7.1 to -0.04), and former problem drinkers had worse mental health (beta -3.6; CI -6.9 to -0.24) on follow-up. We could find no effect of problem drinking on physical health or social function.
Conclusions: Current problem drinking is associated with worse self-perceived health among elderly patients in the year following presentation to an ED. The magnitude of decline in health perception may approximate the effect of having back pain, sciatica, or other musculoskeletal complaints. Elderly former problem drinkers suffer from more severe mental health problems over that same period.