A DRINK to KEEP YOU ALERT?
In general, having a drink or two a day is widely accepted as having moderate health benefits. But could it actually help retain cognitive function? New research out of Wake Forest University School of Medicine suggests that moderate alcohol intake offers long-term cognitive protection and reduces the risk of dementia in older adults. The study was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association 2OO9 International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease (ICAD), in Vienna on July 13. While other studies have shown that moderate consumption, particularly wine, is linked with a lower risk of heart attacks and dementia, the majority of the studies have been done in middle-aged people. What’s unclear is if the benefits of alcohol also apply to older adults in general or to older adults who could already have some mild memory problems. This was the largest, longest US study to look at the effects of regular alcohol intake on dementia in seniors, both with and without memory problems. Researchers began by examining and interviewing 3OOO-plus people who were 75 years or older and most without any memory or thinking problems, about their drinking habits for 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). 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 those who had no cognitive impairment at the start of the study and consumed eight to 14 alcoholic drinks per week, or one to two per day, experienced an average 37% reduction in risk of developing dementia compared to those who did not drink at all. The type of alcohol consumed did not matter.
But for older adults who started the study with mild cognitive impairment, 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. It is unclear from this study whether an abstainer who begins drinking moderately in his/her 7Os will experience the same benefit or if the benefit is associated with a long pattern of moderate alcohol intake that continues on into old age. “Our results suggest that older adults who are normal cognitively and drink moderately do not need to change their drinking behavior,” Kaycee Sink, MD, MAS (Masters of Advanced Studies in clinical research), a geriatrician and senior author of the paper, said. “If you have mild cognitive impairment however, it might benefit you to restrict your drinking and certainly not exceed one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men,” she said.