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Sad statistics regarding senior binge drinking

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
binge drinking, seniors, cognitive decline, Alzheimer's disease, memory loss

When the topic of binge drinking comes up, many associate it with rowdy college kids partying on spring break. Binge drinking is a major problem in the US and partying young adults (or teens) are not the major offenders. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) released last January reported that one in six adults in the nation is a binge drinker; furthermore, those in the 65-plus age group binge-drink more often than any other age group. Two studies were presented on July 18 at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2012 in Vancouver, Canada; they noted that binge drinking among seniors increases the risk for cognitive decline and memory loss.

The researchers noted that adults ages 65 and older who reported binge drinking at least twice a month were more than 2.5 times more likely to suffer cognitive declines than their non-drinking peers. In their survey, binge drinking was defined as men having five or more drinks within a short period of time and women having four or more drinks within a short period of time. The CDC recommends that if one must drink, he or she should do it in moderation. The agency describes moderate drinking as no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks for day for men. According to the CDC, seniors most likely to binge-drink drink have incomes of more than $75,000 a year.

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Iain Lang and colleagues at the University of Exeter in England conducted an eight-year study on binge drinking; they followed 5,075 US seniors aged 65 and older and assessed cognitive function and memory in a telephone survey. Among the findings: 4.3% of men and 0.5% of women reported drinking heavily twice a month or more; another 8.3 % of men and 1.5% of women reported doing so once a month or more.

Another study reported at the conference led by Tina Hoang of the Veterans Health Research Institute in San Francisco found moderate alcohol consumption had no protective properties in the mental functions of older women. The study followed 1,306 women aged 65 and older for 20 years. Among the findings:

  • Women who changed from not drinking to drinking over the course of the study had a 200% increased risk of cognitive impairment compared with non-drinkers.
  • Women who reported drinking more in the past than at the beginning of the study were at a 30% increased risk of developing cognitive impairment compared with non-drinkers.
  • Moderate drinkers in the late phrase of the study were roughly 60% more likely to develop cognitive impairment compared with nondrinkers.

Earlier studies have noted drinking alcohol in moderation, especially red wine, might decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and premature death. However, the authors of both studies stress that alcohol must be consumed in moderation to offer those benefits. They note that it is not the amount of drinking one indulges in; rather, it is the pattern of the drinking. Binge drinking carries a significant risk of cognitive decline.

Reference: Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2012