A new study says that light to moderate alcohol consumption significantly decreases the risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease among elderly over 75 years of age.
The study, conducted by German researchers and published in the medical journal Age and Aging, looked at 3,202 elderly German individuals over the age of 75 who were free of dementia. These subjects were evaluated at baseline, 1.5 years and 3 years. Researchers discovered that after 3 years subjects who consumed alcohol had 30 percent less dementia and 40 percent less Alzheimer's disease than those who didn't drink at all.
This study also examined the types of alcohol consumed along with other factors including smoking, genes, level of education, solitary living, and depression. The results of the study showed that even controlling for these factors, dementia was still decreased among the moderate drinkers.
This study adds to the growing body of research that suggests that some alcohol is actually good for our health. What is surprising about the relationship between alcohol and dementia is that heavy alcohol consumption has been well documented to actually cause dementia. In fact, one study showed that as many as 1 in 10 cases of dementia are alcohol-related. However, more and more research is emerging indicating that alcohol, when used in moderation, can actually improve cognitive function. In fact, over the last 30 years there have been more than 71 studies including more than 150,000 people examining this relationship. Of these studies, most have indicated that moderate alcohol use is cognitive-protective.
However, there are some factors that are problematic in studying the relationship between dementia and alcohol consumption. First, due to ethical reasons, this type of study is strictly observational. Participants are not controlled and alcohol consumption is self-reported. Both of these factors leave room for bias. Furthermore, it is very difficult to fully account for all factors which many influence the reason why a person drinks the amount that they do. For example, the elderly who drink frequently and in moderation may be more physical active, social, and cognitively intact overall.
In the discussion portion of the research study the authors acknowledged that,“Although alcohol consumption was related to less incident dementia, this may not be a casual relationship. It could be that participants who drank alcohol sensibly also have a healthier lifestyle in terms of physical, dietary and mental perspectives.
Nonetheless, the relationship remains strong between alcohol and dementia. Even though there is some speculation on exactly why this relationship occurs, it is safe to say that elderly drinkers are remaining cognitively intact longer than their abstaining counterparts.
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