Researchers based in Denmark set out to understand the impact of alcohol on the lives of people living with Alzheimer’s disease. They followed 321 people in their 70s living with mild Alzheimer’s disease. The volunteers were all part of a much larger study investigating whether education and counselling have an impact on quality of life and memory and thinking skills.
At the start of the study, the researchers asked a close family member or caregiver to assess how much alcohol the volunteer consumed on average, per day. Alcohol consumption was broken down into no alcohol, up to one unit a day, two to three units a day (moderate level) or more than three units a day.
Of the 321 volunteers in the study, 8% were abstinent, 71% drank up to one unit a day, 17% had 2-3 units/day and 4% had more than 4 units a day. The study measured Dutch units, which are defined as 15mL of pure alcohol compared to 10mL for a UK unit of alcohol. The team also recorded factors such as other diseases, smoking status, weight, education level and whether the person with Alzheimer’s lived at home alone or with family. The researchers followed the volunteers for three years, and in this time 53 people passed away.
Over the three year study, the researchers found slightly lower death rates in those people with Alzheimer’s who drank moderate amounts of alcohol daily compared to those who drank only occasionally or those who drank more than three units a day.
Dr Laura Phipps from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“While previous studies have tended to focus on the relationship between alcohol and dementia risk, this new research explored the impact of alcohol consumption in those already living with Alzheimer’s disease. This small study suggests moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a reduced risk of death compared to those drinking only occasionally or those drinking more than four UK units a day. While these kinds of studies are useful in highlighting trends, it’s difficult to tease apart cause and correlation, and factors such as general health, medication and previous drinking habits could also have an impact.
“The effect of low or moderate alcohol intake on the brain is still being understood and current research is not conclusive as to how it may affect cognitive decline or dementia. Some studies have suggested that moderate alcohol intake could have a protective effect on the brain but further research is needed to explore this and help determine a specific ‘safe’ level of alcohol consumption for healthy people and those living with dementia. Anyone who is concerned about their alcohol intake should speak to their GP.
“Currently, general advice around alcohol is to not drink to excess, with NHS guidelines recommending no more than 3-4 units of alcohol per day for men, and 2-3 units for women. In the meantime, continued investment in research is vital to find preventions for dementia and to better understand how different levels of alcohol consumption affect the brain.