Risk of Dementia Reduced by Drinking Alcohol in Moderation

The risk of dementia is reduced by drinking alcohol in moderation. The alcohol consumed can be beer, wine, or spirits. It doesn’t matter.

risk of dementiaDementia refers to a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia is not a normal part of aging. It is not a disease. It is a result of any of a number of diseases or conditions that cause the symptoms.

Among people over the age of 65, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. The second most common cause is brain damage from reduced blood flow  through vessels leading to it. The resulting symptoms are called vascular dementia. Abnormal clumps of protein (Lewey bodies) in the brain leads to the symptoms called Lewey body dementia. About 10% of dementia has this cause.

The breakdown of cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain cause the symptoms called frontotemporal dementia. Because those lobes are associated with personality, behavior and language, those behaviors are most often effected.

Less common causes of dementia are

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS).
  • Huntington’d disease.
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Corticobasal degeneration (CBD).
  • Posterior cortical atrophy (PCA).
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP).
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)
  • Niemann-Pick disease.
  • Type C HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND).
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH),

The specific symptoms experienced by a person depend on the brain section damaged. But there are common symptoms.

  • Memory loss. Forgetting that we wear glasses. Not simply forgetting where we last placed them.
  • Misplacing objects. Placing things in strange places. A box of cereal in the linen closet or a shoe in a toolbox.
  • Forgetting how to do familiar tasks. Forgetting how to get dressed, address an envelope, or prepare a meal.
  • Language problems. Forgetting words or using the wrong words.
  • Disoriented in time or space. Forgetting what year it is. Or getting lost in familiar places.
  • Poor judgment. Loaning money to strangers. Putting the cat out at night in sub-zero weather. Wearing a winter coat in August.
  • Difficulty planning or organizing. Problems organizing the day’s activities or planning a party.
  • Changes in mood or personality. Severe mood swings or acting out of character.
  • Lack of interest in life. Loss of interest in things once enjoyed.

Some dementias can be reversed. That’s when the cause is eliminated. There are many such causes.

  • Psychological depression.
  • Brain tumors.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Vitamin deficiencies. (A, C, B-12 and folic acid.)
  • Medication problems. (Drug interactions, side effects, or overdose.)
  • Heart disease.
  • Infections.
  • Metabolic problems (kidney failure, dehydration, and COPD).
  • Thyroid problems.
  • Toxins in the patient’s environment.

Risk of Dementia

There are some things known to increase the risk of dementia.

  • Age. Growing older, especially past age 65.
  • Family history. Having, or having had, a blood relative with dementia.
  • Down syndrome. Having Down syndrome increases risk of early-onset dementia.

We have no control over these things. But there are many that we can change. We can

  • Avoid smoking.
  • Drink alcohol frequently and in moderation. (“Risk of dementia reduced by drinking alcohol in moderation.”)
  • Maintain a safe blood pressure level.
  • Maintain proper cholesterol levels.
  • Treat diabetes.
  • Maintain proper weight.

Study: Risk of Dementia

A review was made of 74 studies of alcohol and risk of dementia. Over 250,000 people were included in the studies.

The authors reported that “These studies overwhelmingly found that moderate drinking either reduced or had no effect on the risk of dementia or cognitive impairment.” Overall, moderate drinking was linked to a 23% lower risk of developing cognitive impairment or dementia. That’s compared with abstaining. The analyses revealed that

  • The existence of “sick quitters” within the category of abstainers did not change the findings. (Sick quitters are those who abstain after becoming ill.)
  •  Age, education, gender and smoking did not change the findings.
  •  The method used to assess dementia did not change the findings.
  •  The effects of moderate drinking were the same for overall dementia, Alzheimer’s, and vascular dementia.
  • Light and moderate drinking were both associated with reduced risk of dementia. But abusive drinking was linked to increased risk of dementia.

The title summarizes the take-home message. The risk of dementia is reduced by drinking alcohol in moderation. The old myth that every drink kills brain cells isn’t simply wrong.  It’s damaging. Avoiding alcohol is contrary to the best physical and cognitive health.



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Readings on Risk of Dementia

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  • Kalev-Zylinska, M.L. and During, M.J. Paradoxical facilitatory effect of low-dose alcohol consumption on memory mediated by NMDA receptors. J Neuros., 2007, 27, 10456-10467.
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  • Ruitenberg, A., et al. Alcohol consumption and risk of dementia. Lancet, 2002, 359(9303), 281-286.
  • Solfrizzi, Vencenzo,  et al. Alcohol consumption, mild cognitive impairment, and progression to dementia. Neurol., 2007, 68(2).
  • Stampfer, M.J., et al. Effects of moderate alcohol consumption on cognitive function in women. New Eng J Med., 2005, 352, 245-253.
  • Truelsen, T., et al.  Amount and type of alcohol and risk of dementia. Neurol., 2002, 59, 1313-1319.
  • Weyerer, S., et al. Current alcohol consumption and its relationship to incident dementia. Age and Ageing, 2011, 40(5), 633-637.