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April 23, 2007

History of Drinking Increases Risk of Fatal Injury in Elderly

A history of drinking alcohol may contribute to fatal injuries in the elderly, according to a new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and other institutions. The study was recently published online by the journal Alcohol. The authors report an increased risk of fatal injury from falls, motor vehicle crashes and suicides in individuals with a history of alcohol consumption.

Gary S. Sorock, PhD, lead author of the study and an adjunct associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management, said, “Older adults and their families should be aware of the potential increased risk of fatal falls, motor vehicle crashes and suicides associated with alcohol consumption.”

The researchers based their study results on two national surveys—the 1993 National Mortality Follow-Back Survey and the 1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey. Having 12 or more drinks in the last year was associated with a 70 percent increase in the risk of death from a motor vehicle crash or fall and a 60 percent increase in the risk of suicide, after adjustment for age, gender, marital status, education, having worked in the past year and history of heart attack.

The study authors report that after taking alcohol use into account, the risk of fatal injury from motor vehicle crashes, falls and suicide was highest for individuals 85 years or older and that there was a higher risk of suicide in men than women. Being married was associated with a reduced risk of fatal falls, motor vehicle crashes and suicide.

The study authors report that the risk associated with alcohol may be due to the short- and long-term effects of alcohol and to health-related behaviors that may be linked with drinking.

“Alcohol-drinking history and fatal injury in older adults” was supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Gary S. Sorock and Susan P. Baker, both with the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, and Li-Hui Chen and Sheila R. Gonzalgo co-authored the study.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.