Alcohol has cognitive benefits in older adults

Moderate alcohol intake offers long-term cognitive protection and reduces the risk of dementia in older adults, revealed by researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

The study is being presented at the Alzheimer’s Association 2009 International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease (ICAD), in Vienna.

This is the largest, longest U.S. study to look at the effects of regular alcohol intake on dementia in seniors, both with and without memory problems.

“As of yet, we still have no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, so it is important to look for things that might help people prevent the disease,” said Kaycee Sink, M.D., M.A.S (Masters of Advanced Studies in clinical research), a geriatrician and senior author of the paper.

For the study, researchers began by examining and interviewing 3,069 individuals, 75 years or older and most without any memory or thinking problems, about their drinking habits. Participants were asked about beer, wine, and liquor. The investigators then categorized the individuals as abstainers (non-drinkers), light drinkers (one to seven drinks per week), moderate drinkers (eight to 14 drinks per week), or heavy drinkers (more than 14 drinks per week). All types of alcohol were included.

The study subjects were then examined and interviewed every six months for six years to determine changes in their memory or thinking abilities and to monitor who developed dementia.

Researchers found that individuals who had no cognitive impairment at the start of the study and drank eight to 14 alcoholic beverages per week, or one to two per day, experienced an average 37 percent reduction in risk of developing dementia compared to individuals who did not drink at all and were classified as abstainers. The type of alcohol consumed did not matter.

For older adults who started the study with mild cognitive impairment, however, consumption of alcohol, at any amount, was associated with faster rates of cognitive decline. In addition, those who were classified in the heavy drinker category, consuming more than 14 drinks per week, were almost twice as likely to develop dementia during the study compared to non-drinkers with mild cognitive impairment.

“We were excited to see that even in older adults, moderate alcohol intake decreases the risk of dementia,” Sink said. “It is important to note, however, that our study found a significantly higher risk of dementia for heavy drinkers who started the study with mild cognitive impairment.”

We are starting to make progress in understanding how to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s and other dementias. It is a very exciting time to be involved in geriatrics research, conclude researchers.

Source: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, USA



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