Alcohol and Cognitive Function in Ageing: Can Drinking Help?

The relation between drinking alcohol and cognitive function in ageing (or aging) is important. Most people drink and most look forward to mentally active ageing. But is there a connection between the two?

I. The Study

                    Free Cognitive Quizzes!

Researchers wanted to learn the answer. Therefore, they looked at participants drawn from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS).

That’s a nationally representative sample of US middle-aged and older adults. 

Participants had taken an initial cognitive test. Then researchers chose those who had taken at least three additional tests during a 13 year period. As a result, researchers analyzed 19,887 people. Researchers studied individuals over an average of 9.1 years.

Researchers focused on rates of change for the cognitive domains of mental status, word recall, and vocabulary. To do so, they identified two groups. One was a consistently low trajectory group. It had low cognitive scores throughout the study period. The other was a consistently high trajectory group. It had high cognitive scores throughout the study.

Most research finds that the benefits of drinking in moderation apply to all forms. That is, to wine, beer, and spirits or liquor.

The researchers grouped drinkers by consumption level. There were never drinkers, former drinkers, and current drinkers. Among drinkers, low to moderate drinking women had fewer than eight drinks per week. For men it was fewer than 15 per week. Heavy drinking women had eight or more drinks weekly. For men, heavy drinking was having 15 or more drinks per week.

Researchers then made comparisons with never drinkers. Low to moderate drinkers were much more likely to have consistently high cognitive scores. In addition, they also had much lower annual rates of decline in cognitive functions.

II. Resources: Alcohol and Cognitive Function

Web Pages

alcohol and cognitive functionAlcohol Lowers Dementia Risk Nearly 40%.

Drinking and Dementia, Alzheimer’s, & Memory Loss.

Abstaining from Alcohol is a Risk Factor for Dementia.

Drinking Reduces Alzheimer’s. This Might Help Explain Why.

Moderate Alcohol Drinking, Senility, and Longevity

Readings (Popular)

alcohol and cognitive functionAlzheimer’s & Dementia for Dummies. Hoboken: Wiley, 2016.

Cardwell, L. Dementia in the Family. Practical Advice. Bellingham, WA: Self-Counsel, 2017.

Whalley, L. Understanding Brain Aging and Dementia. NY: Columbia U Press, 2015. 

Readings (Scientific)

Funk-White, M. et al. Alcohol use and cognitive performance. Age Ment Health, 2021.

Shen, Y. et al. Low to Moderate Alcohol Drinking and Cognitive Functions. JAMA Network Open. 2020, 3(6), 7922.

Zhang, Y. et al. Drinking in midlife and cognitive function in old age. Nut Meta Cardio Dis, 2021, 31(11), 3044-3053.


This site gives no advice about alcohol and cognitive function. For that, please see your doctor.