A new study has found that people with harmful levels of alcohol consumption in mid-life are more likely to have severe cognitive problems in later life. The study is published on Wednesday 30 July in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School looked at data from 6,542 people who were enrolled in the Health and Retirement study, in the US. The participants – who were all born between 1931 and 1941 – took part in a series of memory tests in 1992, which were repeated regularly between 1996 and 2010. A questionnaire was also used to assess people’s drinking habits and identify those people with alcohol use disorders.
Of the 6,542 participants, 74 people were classified as having severe memory impairment in later life, and 90 as having severe cognitive impairment – severe problems with memory and thinking skills which indicated that a person may have dementia. The results showed that people with alcohol use disorders in mid-life were more likely to have severe cognitive problems in later life.
Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“This large, well-conducted study suggests that people with harmful drinking habits may have a higher risk of dementia, and this is not the first time heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to poor brain health. One strength of this study is its long time period: as dementia develops slowly over a number of years it’s crucial to understand what factors could affect our risk of the condition earlier in life. Although studies such as this one can be very useful for observing health trends, it’s important to note that they are not able to show cause and effect, and it’s not clear whether other factors may also have influenced these results.
“Dementia affects over 800,000 people in the UK today and with that number increasing, we urgently need to find ways to prevent the condition. In the meantime, evidence suggests that not drinking too much can help lower our risk of dementia, along with a healthy, balanced diet, regular exercise, and keeping blood pressure and weight in check.”