Moderate alcohol intake, especially wine, has been associated with reduced risk of dementia in middle aged adults. It is not known whether this association is also true for older adults or those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
Kaycee Sink, MD, MAS, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine, Section on Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC, and colleagues sought to determine the relationship between alcohol intake and incident dementia in 3,069 community-living adults aged 75 years and older without dementia who were enrolled in the Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory Study (GEMS), an NIH-sponsored study of ginkgo biloba for prevention of dementia. At the beginning of the study, 2,587 of the participants were assessed to be cognitively normal and 482 had MCI.
Alcohol consumption was self-reported by study participants and categorized by the researchers as none, 1-7 drinks/week (light), 8-14 drinks/week (moderate), and more than 14 drinks/week (heavy). All types of alcohol were counted. The distribution of alcohol consumption per week was 0=42.6%; 1-7=38.2%; 8-14=9.4%; more than 14= 9.8%.
Participants were examined every six months for up to six years for changes in their memory or thinking abilities. If someone was suspected of having developed Alzheimer’s or another dementia, they were thoroughly evaluated. There were 523 news cases of dementia during the follow up period of the study.
After adjustment for demographics, smoking, co-morbidities, depression, social activity, and baseline cognition, moderate alcohol intake (1-2 drinks per day) was associated with a 37% lower risk of dementia in participants with normal cognition at baseline, but not in those with MCI. (Note: This is updated data from the researcher, which is why it differs from the attached abstract.)
For older adults who started the study with MCI, consumption of alcohol at any amount was associated with faster rates of cognitive decline; and those who were classified in the heavy drinker category (more than 14 drinks per week) were almost twice as likely to develop dementia during the study, compared to non-drinkers with mild cognitive impairment.
“Our findings suggest mild to moderate alcohol intake may reduce the risk of dementia,” Sink said. “However, this does not appear to be true for those who already have mild cognitive impairment. Current recommendations not to exceed one drink per day for women and two for men are supported by these results.”