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Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health

Senior Citizens Drink Up! Moderate Alcohol Leads to Better Memory

Also linked with a larger volume in the hippocampus, a brain region critical for episodic memory

Several glasses coming together for a drinking toastOct. 23, 2014 – If you are a senior age 60 or older and do not have dementia, new research supports previous studies that have found moderate alcohol consumption improves your ability to recall memories of events – episodic memory.

Moderate alcohol consumption was also linked with a larger volume in the hippocampus, a brain region critical for episodic memory. The relationship between light alcohol consumption and episodic memory goes away if hippocampal volume is factored in, providing new evidence that hippocampal functioning is the critical factor in these improvements.

The researchers note that the amount of alcohol consumption had no impact on executive function or overall mental ability.   

These findings by researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, University of Kentucky, and University of Maryland are detailed in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.  

 

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This study used data from more than 660 patients in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort. These patients completed surveys on their alcohol consumption and demographics, a battery of neuropsychological assessments, the presence or absence of the genetic Alzheimer’s disease risk factor APOE e4 and MRIs of their brains.

Findings from animal studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may contribute to preserved hippocampal volume by promoting generation of new nerve cells in the hippocampus. In addition, exposing the brain to moderate amounts of alcohol may increase the release of brain chemicals involved with cognitive, or information processing, functions.  

“There were no significant differences in cognitive functioning and regional brain volumes during late life according to reported midlife alcohol consumption status,” said lead author Brian Downer, postdoctoral fellow at UTMB Sealy Center on Aging.

“This may be due to the fact that adults who are able to continue consuming alcohol into old age are healthier, and therefore have higher cognition and larger regional brain volumes, than people who had to decrease their alcohol consumption due to unfavorable health outcomes.”

Although the potential benefits of light to moderate alcohol consumption to cognitive learning and memory later in life have been consistently reported, extended periods of abusing alcohol, often defined as having five or more alcoholic beverages during a single drinking occasion is known to be harmful to the brain.

Other members of this research team include Yang Jiang and David Fardo from the University of Kentucky and Faika Zanjani from the University of Maryland. 

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