Problem drinking in midlife doubles chance of memory problems in later life

July 30, 2014, University of Exeter

A study published Wednesday, July 30 in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry indicates that middle-aged adults with a history of problem drinking are more than twice as likely to suffer from severe memory impairment in later life.

The study highlights the hitherto largely unknown link between harmful patterns of and problems with memory later in life – problems which may place people at a high risk of developing dementia.

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School with support from the NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula (NIHR PenCLAHRC).

The research team studied the association between a history of alcohol use disorders (AUDs) and the onset of severe cognitive and memory impairment in 6542 middle-aged adults born between 1931 and 1941. These individuals participated in the Health and Retirement Study in the US.

Participants were first assessed in 1992 and follow-up assessments took place every other year from 1996 to 2010.

A history of AUDs was identified using the CAGE* questionnaire (short for Cut down, Annoyed, Guilty, Eye-opener). Where participants registered a history of AUDs their chances of developing severe memory impairment more than doubled.

The study was led by Dr Iain Lang. He commented: "We already know there is an association between dementia risk and levels of current alcohol consumption – that understanding is based on asking older people how much they drink and then observing whether they develop problems. But this is only one part of the puzzle and we know little about the consequences of alcohol consumption earlier in life. What we did here is investigate the relatively unknown association between having a drinking problem at any point in life and experiencing problems with memory later in life."

He added: "This finding – that middle-aged people with a history of problem drinking more than double their chances of when they are older – suggests three things: that this is a public health issue that needs to be addressed; that more research is required to investigate the potential harms associated with alcohol consumption throughout life; and that the CAGE questionnaire may offer doctors a practical way to identify those at risk of memory/cognitive impairment and who may benefit from help to tackle their relationship with alcohol."

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer's Society said:

'When we talk about drinking too much, the media often focuses on young people ending up in A&E after a night out. However, there's also a hidden cost of alcohol abuse given the mounting evidence that alcohol abuse can also impact on cognition later in life. This small study shows that people who admitted to alcohol abuse at some point in their lives were twice as likely to have severe memory problems, and as the research relied on self-reporting that number may be even higher.

This isn't to say that people need to abstain from alcohol altogether. As well as eating a healthy diet, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, the odd glass of red wine could even help reduce your risk of developing dementia.'

The CAGE asks four questions (and the acronym comes from words in each question: Cut down, Annoyed, Guilty, Eye-opener):

  1. Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
  2. Have people annoyed you by criticising your drinking?
  3. Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
  4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover (eye-opener)?

Explore further: Study debunks alcohol consumption assertions 

Related Stories

Study debunks alcohol consumption assertions 

March 10, 2014
Alcohol consumption is not a direct cause of cognitive impairment in older men later in life, a study conducted by the University of Western Australia has found.

Alcohol is not a direct cause of cognitive impairment in older men: study

February 20, 2014
Older men who consume alcohol are not more likely to suffer from cognitive impairment in later life, according to researchers from The University of Western Australia.

Researchers analyze AUDs, sexual behavior among South African men

June 21, 2014
In a study of South African men who drink alcohol in informal drinking environments or "shebeens," researchers from The Miriam Hospital have found a high prevalence of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) that directly correlates to ...

Brand-specific television alcohol ads predict brand consumption among underage youth

July 29, 2014
Underage drinkers are three times more likely to drink alcohol brands that advertise on television programs they watch compared to other alcohol brands, providing new and compelling evidence of a strong association between ...

In alcohol abusers, fish oil may reduce risk of neurodegeneration and ensuing dementia

July 18, 2014
Omega-3 fish oil might help protect against alcohol-related neurodamage and the risk of eventual dementia, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Over 45s drink more frequently than young women

June 3, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—They don't tend to binge drink but middle-aged women over 45 consume alcohol more frequently than any other age group, a behaviour putting their long-term health at risk, according to QUT researcher Hanna ...

Recommended for you

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

Your dishwasher is not as sterile as you think

January 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Your dishwasher may get those plates spotless, but it is also probably teeming with bacteria and fungus, a new study suggests.

Study reveals what sleep talkers have to say

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers with members from several institutions in France has conducted a study regarding sleep talking and has found that most sleep talking is not only negative in nature, but involves a large amount of swearing. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.