OBJECTIVE:To determine whether there is a relationship of low to moderate alcohol consumption with cardiovascular mortality in the elderly. DESIGN:Prospective cohort studies with 5-year mortality follow-up. SETTING:Three populations of community-dwelling elders. PARTICIPANTS:Population-based cohorts of men and women, aged 65 or older, in three populations. Subjects with prior myocardial infarction, stroke, or cancer, as well as those lacking alcohol consumption data, were excluded from statistical analyses leaving 2,694 subjects in East Boston, Massachusetts, 2,293 subjects in Iowa, and 1,904 subjects in New Haven, Connecticut. MAIN OUTCOME MEASUREMENTS:Alcohol consumption, total mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and cancer mortality. RESULTS:Low to moderate alcohol consumption was associated with statistically significant lowered total as well as cardiovascular mortality in East Boston and New Haven. The relative risks of total mortality for low to moderate consumers of alcohol compared to those consuming no alcohol in the previous year were 0.7 (95% CI 0.6-0.8) in East Boston and 0.6 (95% CI 0.5-0.8) in New Haven. For cardiovascular mortality, the RRs were 0.6 in East Boston and 0.5 in New Haven (95% CI's exclude null). These results persisted after control for potential confounding variables. In Iowa, there were no significant differences in total or cardiovascular mortality according to alcohol consumption patterns. For cancer mortality, there were no significant associations with alcohol consumption in any of the three populations. CONCLUSIONS:These data suggest that the relationship of low to moderate alcohol consumption with reduced total and cardiovascular mortality, which are well documented in middle age, also occur in older populations.