Risk of Cognitive Impairment Increased by Drinking Less Alcohol: Abstaining from Alcohol is a Risk Factor for Dementia

The risk of cognitive impairment has again been found higher among those who drink less alcohol.

This study followed 1,309 women age 65 or older for twenty years. Alcohol consumption was assessed periodically for 16 years. At the end of 20 years, cognitive impairment, including dementia, was measured.

Some women cut their drinking by one-half drink or more per week. They increased their risk of cognitive impairment or dementia by 34.5%. Adjusting for age, education, diabetes, smoking, weigh, and physical activity had little impact on the results.

Cognitive impairment exists when people have problems with their thinking skills. It might be loss of higher reasoning, forgetfulness, problems learning, difficulties concentrating, or other reductions in mental functioning.

Cognitive impairment can progress to dementia, which is a general term for a major decline in mental ability. It’s severe enough to interfere with daily life. People with dementia may have many cognitive deficits. They have problems with short-term memory. Generally, they find it hard to find keys, purses, and similar things.

risk of cognitive impairment

They also have a hard time planning and organizing. It is hard to plan a meal and prepare it. Completing ordinary tasks becomes a hard job. They may get lost going to the store or even at home. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.

Reduce Risk of Cognitive Impairment

Some factors that increase the risk of cognitive impairment, such as age and genetics, can’t be prevented. However, lifestyle choices can improve brain health.

The risk of cognitive impairment can be reduced in a number of ways.

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain good overall physical health.
  • Eat nutritional food.
  • Keep your mind active and challenged.
  • Interact with other people.

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends following the Mediterranean diet to reduce the risk of cognitive impairment. That diet involves

  • Eating more fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains.
  • Replacing butter whenever possible with healthful fats such olive oil.
  • Limiting the consumption of red meat.
  • Replacing salt whenever possible with herbs to flavor food.
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week.
  • Regularly consuming alcohol in moderation. (Beer, wine or spirits.)

The Alzheimer’s Association’s recommendation is simple. “Keep your heart healthy to help keep your brain healthy. Growing evidence suggests that many factors that increase the risk of heart disease also may increase the risk of dementia. These factors include smoking, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.'”

In short, there are many things that can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment.


Carper, J. 100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-related Memory Loss. NY: Little, Brown, 2010.

Fife, B. Stop Alzheimer’s Now! How to Prevent and Reverse Dementia. Colorado Springs: Piccadilly, 2011.

Hardman, L. Dementia. Juvenile readership. Detroit: Lucent, 2009.

Levine, R. Defying Dementia. Understanding and Preventing Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006.

Thompson, R. and Pulsford, D. Dementia – Support for Family and Friends. London: Kingsley, 2012.

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


  • Hoang, T., et al. Alcohol consumption patterns and cognitive impairment in older women. Am J Geri Psychi., 2014, 22, 1663-1667;
  • Alzheimer’s Association