Binge Drinking Linked To Cognitive Decline

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

While some studies have said that drinking wine on a daily basis is good for the heart, others consider alcohol as unhealthy for the human body. To dive into this debate, researchers from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry (PCMD), University of Exeter, studied the impact of binge drinking and found that there is a possible link between binge drinking and an increase chance of developing dementia in older people.

The findings were recently presented at the Alzheimer´s Association International Conference 2012 where researchers shared their findings with other dementia researchers. The National Institute funded the project with the Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care in the South West Peninsula (NIHR PenCLAHRC).

“We know binge drinking can be harmful: it can increase the risk of harm to the cardiovascular system, including the chance of developing heart disease; and it is related to an increased risk of both intentional and unintentional injuries,” noted Dr. Iain Lang of PCMD in a prepared statement. “However, until we conducted our study it was not clear what the effect was of binge drinking on cognitive function and the risk of developing dementia.”

Few other studies have looked into the relationship between binge drinking and cognitive effects on older adults. In the study, investigators examined data from 5,075 participants who were involved in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults done biennially to understand the impact of binge drinking in older adults. The individuals, who were 65 years of age and older, were followed over a period of eight years. The researchers defined binge drinking as having four or more drinks at one time. They looked at cognitive function and memory with the use of the Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status.

The findings from the study demonstrated that 8.3 percent of men and 1.5 percent of women engaged in binge drinking at least once a month. Those who participated once a month were 62 percent more likely to be part of the group that had the greatest 10 percent decline in cognitive function and 27 percent likelihood of being in the group with the greatest 10 percent in memory decline. Based on the results, another 4.3 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women participated in binge drinking twice a month. Those who engaged in heavy drinking at least twice a month were 2.5 times more likely to be in the group with the greatest 10 percent decline in cognitive function and to be in the group with the greatest 10 percent decline in memory. Overall, results were similar in both men and women.

“In our group of community-dwelling older adults, binge drinking is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline,” explained Lang in the statement. “That’s a real worry because there’s a proven link between cognitive decline and risk of dementia. Those who reported binge drinking at least twice a month were more than twice as likely to have higher levels of decline in both cognitive function and memory. These differences were present even when we took into account other factors known to be related to cognitive decline such as age and level of education.”

The researchers believe that the findings from the study will be helpful for physicians and public health policy specialists. According to USA Today, binge drinking is a big problem in the U.S. In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that one in six adults in the U.S. are binge drinkers and those who are 65 years of age and older participate in binge drinking more than any other age group. Those who tend to binge drink also earn upwards of $75,000 a year. The CDC recommends that individuals, who do drink, drink in moderation. Moderate drinking is defined as a drink a day for females and a maximum of two drinks a day for males.

“This research has a number of implications. First, older people — and their doctors — should be aware that binge drinking may increase their risk of experiencing cognitive decline and encouraged to change their drinking behaviors accordingly. Second, policymakers and public health specialists should know that binge drinking is not just a problem among adolescents and younger adults. We have to start thinking about older people when we are planning interventions to reduce binge drinking,” concluded Lang in the statement.

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