The Foundation for Alcohol Research (ABMRF) recently highlighted a study that appears to show that elderly persons who drink moderately are at a lower or reduced risk of “cognitive decline or dementia and provide cardiovascular benefits.” The study, Alcohol and Cognition in the Elderly: A Review, was published in Psychiatry Investigation. Here’s ABMRF’s report of the study:
Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia are most common in the very elderly, and are associated with huge health costs. With a rapidly aging global population, factors influencing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia are important.
A review of the association between alcohol consumption and cognition in the elderly suggests alcohol may have both a neurotoxic and neuroprotective effect, depending on the dose and drinking pattern. Longitudinal and brain imaging studies in the elderly show that excessive alcohol consumption may increase the risk of cognitive dysfunction and dementia, but regular low to moderate alcohol intake may protect against cognitive decline and dementia and provide cardiovascular benefits.
Investigators reviewed studies published from 1971 to 2011 related to alcohol and cognition in the elderly. At present, there are no proven agents to prevent cognitive decline or dementia, although a number of prospective epidemiological studies have shown a lower risk of such conditions among light to moderate drinkers in comparison with non-drinkers.
Other studies suggest that beneficial effects are seen only among certain sub-groups of subjects. A recent meta-analysis by Peters et al of subjects over the age of 65 in longitudinal studies concluded that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption, in comparison with abstinence, was associated with approximately 35-45% lower risk of cognitive decline or dementia.
They also found that heavy drinking has the opposite effect, so that too much alcohol may increase such risks, so it appears that moderation is the key.
And here’s the abstract from the published paper:
Consumption of large amounts of alcohol is known to have negative effects, but consumption in smaller amounts may be protective. The effect of alcohol may be greater in the elderly than in younger adults, particularly with regard to cognition. However, the drinking pattern that will provide optimal protection against dementia and cognitive decline in the elderly has not been systematically investigated. The present paper is a critical review of research on the effect of alcohol on cognitive function and dementia in the elderly. Studies published from 1971 to 2011 related to alcohol and cognition in the elderly were reviewed using a PubMed search. Alcohol may have both a neurotoxic and neuroprotective effect. Longitudinal and brain imaging studies in the elderly show that excessive alcohol consumption may increase the risk of cognitive dysfunction and dementia, but low to moderate alcohol intake may protect against cognitive decline and dementia and provide cardiovascular benefits. Evidence suggesting that low to moderate alcohol consumption in the elderly protects against cognitive decline and dementia exists; however, because of varying methodology and a lack of standardized definitions, these findings should be interpreted with caution. It is important to conduct more, well-designed studies to identify the alcohol drinking pattern that will optimally protect the elderly against cognitive decline and dementia.
And here’s their conclusion, from the full text of the article:
Evidence suggesting that LMD in the elderly protects against cognitive decline and dementia exists. The present review of evidence-based research may help determine the optimal alcohol drinking pattern to prevent cognitive decline and dementia in the elderly and provide an alternative to existing therapeutic interventions, which have limited effectiveness. However, the varying results of several evidence-based studies of the benefits and risks of alcohol on cognition should be interpreted with caution. Furthermore, the cognitive benefit of LMD may vary from person to person; thus, it is difficult to make a clinical recommendation for abstainers to drink alcohol. Nevertheless, it is important to conduct well-designed studies to determine the optimal alcohol drinking pattern for the elderly as the alternative against cognitive decline and dementia.
It sounds like the key is finding the right dosage for each person, the alcohol sweet spot or goldilocks amount. I’m certainly open to experimentation. Because that’s some seriously tasty medicine I can get behind, especially as I age ever closer to my dotage. I think when I have grandkids, I’m going to teach them to call the refrigerator in the garage, stocked with beer, “grandpa’s medicine cabinet.”