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Drinking in later life: a systematic review and thematic synthesis of qualitative studies exploring older people's perceptions and experiences

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Beth Bareham, Professor Eileen KanerORCiD, Liam SpencerORCiD, Professor Barbara Hanratty



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


Background: alcohol presents risks to the health of older adults at levels that may have been ‘safer’ earlier in life. Moderatedrinking is associated with some health benefits, and can play a positive role in older people’s social lives. To support healthyageing, we must understand older people’s views with regards to their drinking. This study aims to synthesise qualitative evidenceexploring the perceptions and experiences of alcohol use by adults aged 50 years and over.Methods: a pre-specified search strategy was applied to Medline, PsychINFO, Scopus, Applied Social Sciences Index andAbstracts and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature databases from starting dates. Grey literature, relevantjournals, references and citations of included articles were searched. Two independent reviewers sifted articles andassessed study quality. Principles of thematic analysis were applied to synthesise the findings from included studies.Results: of 2,056 unique articles identified, 25 articles met inclusion criteria. Four themes explained study findings: routinesand rituals of older people’s drinking; self-image as a responsible drinker; perceptions of alcohol and the ageing body; andolder people’s access to alcohol. Differences between gender, countries and social patterns are highlighted.Conclusions: older people perceive themselves as controlled and responsible drinkers. They may not recognise risks associatedwith alcohol, but appreciate its role in sustaining social and leisure activities important to health and well-being in laterlife. These are important considerations for intervention development. Drinking is routinised across the life course and maybe difficult to change in retirement.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bareham BK, Kaner E, Spencer LP, Hanratty B

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Age and Ageing

Year: 2019

Volume: 48

Issue: 1

Pages: 134-146

Online publication date: 04/05/2018

Acceptance date: 12/04/2018

Date deposited: 23/05/2018

ISSN (print): 0002-0729

ISSN (electronic): 1468-2834

Publisher: Oxford University Press


DOI: 10.1093/ageing/afy069


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