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Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health

Alcohol Consumption by Elderly Reduces Risk of Dementia, Alzheimer’s

Most studies of senior citizens in last 31 years show association between moderate alcohol consumption and better cognitive function and reduced risk of dementia

March 7, 2011 - The evidence is growing more convincing – even for senior citizens aged 75 and older - that alcohol consumption reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A study released today found elderly drinkers had approximately 30% less overall dementia and 40% less Alzheimer dementia than did non-drinking subjects. The report is online in Age and Ageing, published by Oxford University Press for the British Geriatrics Society.

These results are similar to several previous studies in the very elderly and suggest that moderate drinking is associated with less dementia, according to the researchers.

Interestingly, the study found no significant differences according to the type of alcoholic beverage consumed.

 

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Read the latest news on Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health

 

The authors’ conclusions suggest, too, that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption is inversely related to dementia, even among the elderly.

"The badge of age is not a warning label of fragility,” said Harvey Finkel, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Boston University Medical Center.

Finkel, a member of the Forum that reviewed the research, added, “While, I believe, one should not start to drink just because one has attained seniority, neither must one stop! Elderly folks handle alcohol with more responsibility than do the young, and they may derive greater health benefits from moderate drinking. Age is not a reason for abstinence."

The Forum noted that in the last 31 years (1980 – 2011) the association between moderate alcohol intake and cognitive function has been investigated in 71 studies comprising 153,856 men and women from various populations with various drinking patterns. Most studies showed an association between light to moderate alcohol consumption and better cognitive function and reduced risk of dementia, including vascular dementia and Alzheimer dementia.

The Forum also noted they considered the research “well done.”

This study involved 3202 German individuals (age 75+) who were in the care of general practitioners. Free of dementia, they were studied at baseline, were followed up 1.5 years and 3 years later by means of structured clinical interviews including detailed assessment of current alcohol consumption and DSM-IV dementia diagnoses.

Associations between alcohol consumption (in grams of ethanol), type of alcohol (wine, beer, mixed alcohol beverages) and incident dementia were examined.

There was good ascertainment of the development of dementia, even among subjects who died during follow up. Of 3,202 subjects free of dementia at baseline, 217 subjects met the criteria for dementia during follow up.

The study was led by Dr. Siegfried Weyerer, Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Germany. Other researchers from German institutions included Martina Schäufele, Birgitt Wiese, Wolfgang Maier, Franziska Tebarth, Hendrik van den Bussche, Michael Pentzek, Horst Bickel, Melanie Luppa, and Steffi G. Riedel-Heller

Forum Comments

“Happy people with many friends have the most opportunities for social drinking, and in this study alcohol consumption was significantly associated with factors that are protective for the development of dementia: better education, not living alone, and absence of depression,“ noted Forum member Erik Skovenborg, MD, Scandinavian Medical Alcohol Board, Practitioner, Aarhus, Denmark.

“However, even after controlling for these and several other factors, the risk for incident dementia was still significantly lower among light-to-moderate alcohol consumers. Even so it may still be a part of the explanation that old German men and women, who drank alcohol sensibly in old age, also have a healthier lifestyle in terms of physical, dietary, and mental perspectives."

Forum member Roger Corder, PhD, MRPharmS, William Harvey Research Institute, Queen Mary University of London, UK, agreed, adding, "From all I have read on this subject, I fully agree that it is very difficult to separate alcohol consumption from other healthy lifestyle factors in populations where moderate drinking is commonplace.

“In this respect, the study doesn't correct for a healthy diet, which is also likely very important, as a poor diet is associated with increased risk of dementia due to deficiencies such as low omega-3 fat intake, inadequate vitamin B12, etc. However, it is also known that improved vascular function in alcohol drinkers could account for some element of reduced dementia risk."

Other Forum reviewers thought this was a well-performed study, with a result supporting previous ones, but there were limitations to the study. It included ex-drinkers with never drinkers in the referent group; there was a rather short period of follow up; among subjects reporting "mixed" types of beverage intake (that had the greatest estimated effect), numbers of subjects according to the percentage of their total alcohol intake from wine (e.g., < 30%, = 30%) were not given; there was no evidence of a dose-response curve, probably due to small numbers; the small numbers also probably made it impossible to assess for differences in effect for Alzheimer dementia and for other dementias.

Reference: Weyerer S, Schaufele M, Wiese B, Maier W, Tebarth F, van den Bussche H, Pentzek M, Bickel H, Luppa M, Riedel-Heller SG, for the German AgeCoDe Study Group (German Study on Ageing, Cognition and Dementia in Primary Care Patients). Current alcohol consumption and its relationship to incident dementia: results from a 3-year follow-up study among primary care attenders aged 75 years and older. Age and Ageing 2011; 0: 1𔃅 doi: 10.1093/ageing/afr007.

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