Skip to content

    50+: Live Better, Longer

    Font Size

    Bit of Alcohol May Benefit Aging Brain

    Older People Who Drink in Moderation Appear to Have Less Dementia Than Nondrinkers, Study Finds
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    Jan. 28, 2010 -- A drink or two a day may help older people stay mentally sharp, but moderation is the key, a new study finds.

    Researchers in Brazil asked people 60 and older about their use of alcohol and tested them for dementia and other age-related mental impairments.

    Study participants who were heavy alcohol drinkers had higher rates of mental decline and dementia than elderly teetotalers. But mild to moderate alcohol consumption appeared to be somewhat protective.

    The study is not the first to suggest that moderate drinking may benefit the brain as we age, but the researchers concluded that it is still too soon to recommend alcohol -- even in moderation -- to protect against age-related cognitive declines.

    Duke University Medical Center geriatric psychiatrist Dan Blazer, MD, agrees.

    Blazer studies alcohol use in the elderly but was not involved with the Brazilian study, which will appear in the April issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

    “I would certainly never recommend that an older patient who does not drink alcohol start drinking based on the research that is available today,” Blazer tells WebMD. “But that research does suggest that older people who drink moderately and who do not have difficulties associated with drinking derive some health benefits.”

    Alcohol and the Aging Brain

    Blazer’s latest research, published late last summer, suggests that binge drinking and other problem drinking behaviors are on the rise among the elderly.

    The newly published study, reported by Marcos A. Lopes, PhD, and colleagues from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s “Old Age Research Group,” included 419 elderly men and 726 elderly women living in Brazil.

    For the purposes of the study, heavy alcohol use was defined as drinking 2 ounces of ethanol a day for men and 1 ounce of ethanol a day for women.

    A 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce glass of regular beer, and a cocktail with 1 1/2 ounces of 80-proof liquor all have about 0.6 ounces of ethanol.

    So men who consumed more than three alcoholic beverages a day and women who consumed more than 1 1/2 drinks were considered heavy drinkers.

    Heavy alcohol consumption was highest among elderly men who had the lowest economic status and the least education.

    Today on WebMD

    Eating for a longer, healthier life.
    woman biking
    How to stay vital in your 50s and beyond.
    womans finger tied with string
    Learn how we remember, and why we forget.
    smiling after car mishap
    9 things no one tells you about getting older.
    fast healthy snack ideas
    how healthy is your mouth
    dog on couch
    doctor holding syringe
    champagne toast
    Two women wearing white leotards back to back
    Man feeding woman
    two senior women laughing