We’ve heard in the past that research suggests having a glass or two of wine or other alcohol every day may in fact lower the risk of dementia in old age. But there are emerging studies that challenge the previous research, and conscientious caregivers do well to take heed.
These new studies are not conclusive, so keep in mind that the consumption of alcohol in these studies may be a commonality among those in the study with minor dementia instead of a risk factor. But the results do cause us to raise doubt that alcohol is good for the aging mind. Tina Hoang, from the Northern California Institute for Research and Education is a lead author on one of these new studies. She states, “It might be important for physicians to keep in mind not only what might be considered troublesome drinking in patients – typically alcohol abuse – but also what a patient’s past use may have been.”
The studies tracked 1300 women for 20 years. The women answered questions about their alcohol use during the study and partook in mental testing at the age of 88 to see if there were problems with cognitive ability and memory.
With regard to alcohol and dementia, the researchers discovered:
- Those described as moderate drinkers were 60 percent more likely to develop mental problems at the end of the study.
- Those that did not drink at the onset of the study but began drinking during the study had a 200 percent greater risk of diminished mental skills.
Another study at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in the UK determined that among 5,100 adults aged 65 or older, those that were binge drinkers were more likely to experience a decline in mental function. Those who drank heavily at least once monthly were 62 percent more likely to experience cognitive decline, and 27 percent more likely to develop the worst memory problems.
The problem with conducting these studies is brought out by Dr. Erik Skovenborg, founder of the Scandinavian Medical Alcohol Board. He states it would be unethical to assign some people to drink and then follow them over time. Additionally he adds, “happy people with many friends may have more opportunities for social drinking.”
These studies will be presented at the annual meeting of the Alzheimer’s Association in Vancouver. There is clearly much more to be learned in this fascinating area of research, and we look forward to developing studies and technology that will assist in unlocking these mysteries.