Medical research has shown that drinking alcohol is good for the brain. It reduces cognitive decline and dementia. This study looked at the amount of alcohol consumed. But it also looked at how often it is consumed. How do they effect thinking ability as we age?
Researchers studied older adults living in a suburban California community. They were participants in the Rancho Bernardo Study* and numbered 1,624. Their mean age was 73.2 years. Each participant completed three things. First, a group of psychological tests. Second, a questionnaire on drinking alcohol and lifestyle. Third, a health report.
Investigators categorized each participant’s alcohol intake. It was never, former, moderate, heavy or excessive. The scientists also categorized participants by drinking frequency. They were non-drinkers, rare, infrequent, frequent or daily drinkers.
Researchers then assessed the association between drinking and cognitive function. In doing so, they adjusted for age, sex, education, exercise, smoking, waist-hip ratio, hypertension and self-assessed health.
The Results: Alcohol is Good for the Brain
Both the quantity and frequency of drinking improved cognitive ability. And they did so in a positive linear pattern. That is, as the amount and frequency increased, so did thinking ability. Visual memory also increased with intake. However, it declined with excessive drinking.
These findings support those of earlier research. That is, regular, moderate drinking is protective against cognitive decline and dementia. In short, moderate consumption of alcohol is good for the brain.
Cognitive Decline and Dementia
People with cognitive decline have problems with their thinking ability. It can include such things as forgetfulness, problems learning, and inability to reason. But also problems concentrating, and other reductions in functioning mentally.
Cognitive decline can lead to dementia. This is a major decline in mental ability. It’s severe enough to cause problems in daily life. People with dementia may have losses in short-term memory. They misplace things, leave them in inappropriate places, and act in strange ways. They often have personality changes or experience other difficulties.
Those with dementia also have a hard time planning and organizing. It may be hard to plan and prepare a meal. Completing simple tasks, such as dressing, becomes hard. They may get lost going to the store or even at home. Many things can cause dementia. But Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
At its most severe levels, those with dementia may forget how to swallow or do other things necessary to survive.
Preventing cognitive decline and dementia could avoid much emotional pain, financial burdening, and other problems. Because alcohol is good for the brain, drinking it in moderation may be one way to avoid dementia
Source: Reas, E., et al. Moderate, regular alcohol consumption is associated with higher cognitive function in older community-dwelling adults. J Prev Alzheimers Dis, 2016, 3(2), 105-113.
*The Rancho Bernardo Study is a prospective study of adults in a southern California community. It began in 1972 with 6,629 residents. Today, about 1,800 are still followed