When it comes to dementia, there’s plenty of conflicting research available when it comes to the impact alcohol consumption has on cognitive decline. Researchers now say that drinking too little or too much can both increase the risk of developing dementia, causing even greater confusion to patients and their families impacted by the condition.
Because there are so many studies and reports floating around when it comes to alcohol consumption and dementia, researchers from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research and University College London investigated the link between alcohol consumption in midlife and the dementia risk in early old age. They also determined whether stroke, coronary heart disease and diabetes had an impact on the association.
The observational study analysed 9,087 British civil servants aged between 35 and 55 in 1985 who were already taking part in the Whitehall II Study. Participants were assessed regularly between 1985 and 1993 for alcohol consumption and alcohol dependence.
Researchers also based their findings on alcohol consumption trajectories between 1985 and 2004 to examine the link between long term alcohol consumption and the risk of dementia from midlife to early old age. They found 397 of the 9,087 participants developed dementia, with 76 being the average age of diagnosis. It was also discovered that people who didn’t drink, as well as those who drank more than 14 units of alcohol a week, were more likely to develop dementia. Researchers found for each additional seven units a person drank each week, their dementia risk by 17 per cent.
“Taken together, these results suggest that abstention and excessive alcohol consumption are associated with an increased risk of dementia,” researchers said in the BMJ Journal.
Researchers also noted that because the study was observational, no firm conclusions can be made.
So what exactly does other research say?
In February, the Lancet Public Health Journal published the largest study of its kind that claimed alcohol use is the biggest risk factor when it comes to dementia. The study analysed 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia before the age of 65 and found 57 per cent of cases were due to chronic heavy drinking.
“The findings indicate that heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are the most important risk factors for dementia, and especially important for those types of dementia which start before age 65, and which lead to premature deaths,” study co-author Dr. Jürgen Rehm said at the time.
That research also found alcohol use disorders were associated with other dementia factors including smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression.
In contrast, a separate study published earlier this year, this time by researchers at the Northwestern University, found a group of people between 80 to 100 regularly smoked and drank but that it didn’t impact their dementia risk.
The participants smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, eat unhealthy foods and consume coffee, but have better brain scans than most people in their 50s. The results found that 71 per cent of the unique group smoked more than average and 83 per cent drank alcohol regularly.
In Australia, more than 400,000 people currently live with dementia. Worldwide, the number currently sits at 50 million, with around 10 million people being diagnosed each year.