Drinking in later life: a systematic review and thematic synthesis of qualitative studies exploring older people’s perceptions and experiences
Bethany Kate Bareham Eileen Kaner Liam Patrick Spencer Barbara Hanratty
Background alcohol presents risks to the health of older adults at levels that may have been ‘safer’ earlier in life. Moderate drinking is associated with some health benefits, and can play a positive role in older people’s social lives. To support healthy ageing, we must understand older people’s views with regards to their drinking. This study aims to synthesise qualitative evidence exploring 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 and Abstracts and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature databases from starting dates. Grey literature, relevant journals, references and citations of included articles were searched. Two independent reviewers sifted articles and assessed 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: routines and rituals of older people’s drinking; self-image as a responsible drinker; perceptions of alcohol and the ageing body; and older 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 associated with alcohol, but appreciate its role in sustaining social and leisure activities important to health and well-being in later life. These are important considerations for intervention development. Drinking is routinised across the life course and may be difficult to change in retirement.