Managing older people’s perceptions of alcohol-related risk: a qualitative exploration in Northern English primary care
Bethany Kate Bareham, Eileen Kaner and Barbara Hanratty
Background: Risk of harm from drinking increases with age as alcohol affects health conditions and medications that are common in later life. Different types of information and experiences affect older people’s perceptions of alcohol’s effects, which must be navigated when supporting healthier decisions on alcohol consumption. Aim: To explore how older people understand the effects of alcohol on their health; and how these perspectives are navigated in supportive discussions in primary care to promote healthier alcohol use. Design and setting: A qualitative study consisting of semi-structured interviews and focus groups with older, non-dependent drinkers and primary care practitioners in Northern England. Method: A total of 24 older adults aged ≥65 years and 35 primary care practitioners participated in interviews and focus groups. Data were analysed thematically, applying principles of constant comparison. Results: Older adults were motivated to make changes to their alcohol use when they experienced symptoms, and if they felt that limiting consumption would enable them to maintain their quality of life. The results of alcohol-related screening were useful in providing insights into potential effects for individuals. Primary care practitioners motivated older people to make healthier decisions by highlighting individual risks of drinking, and potential gains of limiting intake. Conclusion: Later life is a time when older people may be open to making changes to their alcohol use, particularly when suggested by practitioners. Older people can struggle to recognise potential risks or perceive little gain in acting on perceived risks. Such perceptions may be challenging to navigate in supportive discussions.