Alcohol and Dementia

Contributed by: Michael Rafii, M.D., Ph.D - Director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at the University of California, San Diego.

Drinking one or two alcoholic beverages a day -- but no more than that -- appears to protect older adults from developing dementia, researchers reported here at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease.

Researchers identified 3,069 participants in the Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory Study who were age 75 or older. They had undergone a complete assessment of cognition at the start of the study and were evaluated for their cognitive status at six-month intervals, and then were followed for around six years. During the study, 388 cases of dementia occurred among the participants originally classified as normal and 188 cases were diagnosed among patients who had mild cognitive impairment at baseline.

At baseline, 1,286 individuals were teetotalers, 55.7% of whom were women. Of those who drank alcohol, 39.1% were women. More abstainers -- 20.2% -- were classified as having mild cognitive impairment at baseline than consumers (12.3%).

After five years in the study, the 2,587 normal individuals who were self-reported moderate drinkers had a 37% reduced risk of developing dementia when compared with the abstainers (P=0.017) -- the group of patients most at risk of developing dementia.

However, when the researchers scrutinized development of dementia among the 482 patients with mild cognitive impairment at baseline, they found a near doubling of the risk of developing dementia -- a hazard ratio of 1.92 (P<0.05).

This study does not give license to drink beyond one or two alcoholic beverages a day since excessive alcohol consumption is associated with alcoholic dementia and other medical problems. Always, talk to your doctor before starting any major lifestyle modification, including regular consumption of alcohol.

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