Managing older people’s perceptions of alcohol-related risk in primary care: Qualitative exploration

Talk Code: 
Bethany Bareham
Professor Eileen Kaner, Professor Barbara Hanratty
Author institutions: 
Newcastle Univesity Population Health Sciences Institute


Risks of harm from drinking increase 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 effects of alcohol on their bodies, which must be navigated when supporting healthier decisions for drinking. This study aimed to explore how older people understand effects of alcohol on their health; and how these perspectives are navigated in supportive discussions in primary care to promote healthier alcohol use.



A qualitative study was conducted, consisting of semi-structured interviews and focus groups with older (≥65 years) non-dependent drinkers and primary care practitioners in Northern England. Twenty-four older adults and 35 primary care practitioners participated in interviews and focus groups. Data were analysed thematically, applying principles of constant comparison.



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 to provide insights into the 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.


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 upon perceived risks. Such perceptions may be challenging to navigate in supportive discussions.

Submitted by: 
Beth Bareham
Funding acknowledgement: 
This study/project is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Primary Care Research (project reference BH152196). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.