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Alcohol Use as Risk Factors for Older Adults’ Emergency Department Visits: A Latent Class Analysis


Introduction: Late middle-aged and older adults’ share of emergency department (ED) visits is increasing more than other age groups. ED visits by individuals with substance-related problems are also increasing. This paper was intended to identify subgroups of individuals aged 50+ by their risk for ED visits by examining their health/mental health status and alcohol use patterns.

Methods: Data came from the 2013 National Health Interview Survey’s Sample Adult file (n=15,713). Following descriptive analysis of sample characteristics by alcohol use patterns, latent class analysis (LCA) modeling was fit using alcohol use pattern (lifetime abstainers, ex-drinkers, current infrequent/light/moderate drinkers, and current heavy drinkers), chronic health and mental health status, and past-year ED visits as indicators.

Results: LCA identified a four-class model. All members of Class 1 (35% of the sample; lowest-risk group) were infrequent/light/moderate drinkers and exhibited the lowest probabilities of chronic health/mental health problems; Class 2 (21%; low-risk group) consisted entirely of lifetime abstainers and, despite being the oldest group, exhibited low probabilities of health/mental health problems; Class 3 (37%; moderate-risk group) was evenly divided between ex-drinkers and heavy drinkers; and Class 4 (7%; high-risk group) included all four groups of drinkers but more ex-drinkers. In addition, Class 4 had the highest probabilities of chronic health/mental problems, unhealthy behaviors, and repeat ED visits, with the highest proportion of Blacks and the lowest proportions of college graduates and employed persons, indicating significant roles of these risk factors.

Conclusion: Alcohol nonuse/use (and quantity of use) and chronic health conditions are significant contributors to varying levels of ED visit risk. Clinicians need to help heavy-drinking older adults reduce unhealthy alcohol consumption and help both heavy drinkers and ex-drinkers improve chronic illnesses self-management.

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