Are alcohol drinking and frailty related? Does drinking alcohol reduce our chances of becoming frail as we age? This is an important question. Being frail often leads to fractures among older people. Many times these fractures begin a downward spiral of health problems leading to death.
To look at drinking and frailty, researchers examined four studies that included a total of 44,051 people. All were age 55 or older and none lived in any type of institution. Slightly over 66% were alcohol consumers.
The four studies were all prospective. That is, they measured alcohol consumption at the beginning of their study. Then they measured frailty years later at the end of the study. Three of the studies measured the amount of alcohol people consumed. One measured the frequency people drank.
The results generally formed a U-shaped pattern. That is, in comparison with abstainers, moderate drinkers had the lowest risk of frailty over time. However, the heaviest drinkers had an increased risk of frailty equal to that of the non-drinkers.
What is Frailty?
There is no standard medical definition of frailty. As a Supreme Court Justice said, it is hard to define pornography but he knew it when he saw it. Similarly, it is hard to define frailty. Yet we seem to know it when we see it.
Nevertheless, here are common signs of frailty.
• Unintentional weight loss.
• Muscle weakness.
• Physical slowness.
• Poor endurance.
• Low physical activity.
Reducing frailty can reduce individual suffering and reduce the medical cost burden. Thus, it is both humane and practical.
Drinkers Live Longer: Why Does Drinking Increase Length of Life?
Benefits of Moderate Drinking Result from Alcohol Itself.
Do Older Adults Drink Enough Alcohol for Good Health?
Drinking and Dementia, Alzheimer’s, & Memory Loss.
Lifestyle and Cardiovascular Disease & Mortality among Middle-Aged & Older Women.
Drinking Alcohol and Falls among Older Adults.
Moderate Alcohol Drinking, Senility, and Longevity.
Risk of Dementia Reduced by Drinking Alcohol in Moderation.
Moderate Drinking among Older Women: Health Effects.
Risk of Osteoporosis and Drinking Alcohol.
Source for Drinking and Frailty
Kojima, G., et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective associations between alcohol consumption and incident frailty. Age Ageing, 2017. PMID: 28541395
Popular Readings on Frailty
Barusch, A. Caring for the Frail Elderly. NY: Garland, 1991.
Best-Martini, E. & Jones-DiGenova, K. Exercise for Frail Elders. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2014.
Birren, J. Encyclopedia of Gerontology: Age, Aging, and the Aged. Boston: Academic, 2007.
Heumann, L., et al. Empowering Frail Elderly People. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001.
Moats, S & Hoglund, J. Nutrition and Healthy Aging. Washington: National Academies, 2012.
Morley, J. Nutrition in Older Adults. Philadelphia: Elsevier, 2015.
Scholarly Readings on Frailty
Balsa, A., et al. Alcohol consumption and health among elders. Gerontol, 2008, 48(5), 622-636.
Cawthon, P., et al. Frailty in older men. J Am Geri Soc, 2007, 55(8), 1216-1223.
Clegg, A., & Young, J. The frailty syndrome. Clin Med, 2011, 11(1), 72-75.
Corrao, G., et al. A meta-analysis of alcohol consumption and the risk of 15 diseases. Prev Med, 2004, 38(5), 613-619.
Heuberger, R. Alcohol and the older adult. J Nut Elder, 2009, 28(3), 203-235.
Kirchner, J., et al. Alcohol consumption among older adults in primary care. J Gen Int Med, 2007, 22(1), 92-97.
Lang, I., et al. Moderate alcohol consumption in older adults. Age Ageing, 2007, 36(3), 256-261.
Maraldi, C., et al. Moderate alcohol intake and risk of functional decline. J Am Geri Soc, 2009, 57(10), 1767-1775.
Sorocco, K., & Ferrell, S. Alcohol use among older adults. J Gen Psy, 2006, 133(4), 453-467.
St John, P., et al. Alcohol use among older adults. Revi Clin Geron, 2010, 20(1), 56.