Moderate alcohol consumption staves off dementia in seniors

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Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol might preserve cognition in people over the age of 60, according to recently published findings in the American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias.

Older adults who said they drink lightly performed better on tests measuring episodic memory, which is the ability to recall particular events and when they occurred, the investigators found. They also observed a link between self-reported moderate drinking and larger hippocampal volume. The hippocampus is the brain region associated with episodic memory.

Drinking in mid-life was not associated with better cognitive functioning and higher brain volume in later years.

“This may be due to the fact that adults who are able to continue consuming alcohol into old age are healthier, and therefore have higher cognition and larger regional brain volumes, than people who had to decrease their alcohol consumption due to unfavorable health outcomes,” stated lead author Brian Downer, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Medical Branch Sealy Center on Aging.

Downer and his colleagues analyzed data from more than 660 people in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort. They were surveyed on their alcohol consumption and underwent neurophysiological tests.

The results are supported by prior animal studies, which suggested that alcohol consumption promotes nerve cell generation in the hippocampus, the study authors noted. Studies in mice also have found that beer consumption might improve cognitive functioning — but perhaps only in the young.

Long-term care providers have described benefits of alcohol consumption for residents' well-being, and they sometimes incorporate moderate drinking in social activities.