March 18, 2003 -- An occasional drink of alcohol may actually help keep your brain sharp as you get older. A new study shows older adults who have up to six drinks per week are only about half as likely to develop dementia compared to abstainers.
According to researchers, dementia or loss of mental clarity is a major problem among older adults, and Alzheimer's disease alone causes more than 360,000 new cases in the U.S. each year.
Previous studies on the effects of alcohol consumption on age-related mental decline have produced mixed results, but the researchers say this is one of the first to look at alcohol and dementia risk in a large number of adults.
The study, which appears in the March 19 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, compared past alcohol consumption among 373 adults over 65 with dementia to a similar group of 373 healthy adults.
Researchers found that adults who averaged at least 14 drinks per week were 22% more likely to have dementia than abstainers. But those who drank more moderate amounts of alcohol seemed to be protected -- with the greatest benefits for people who drink one to six drinks per week.
Compared to those who didn't drink at all, those who had less than one drink per week had a 35% lower risk, those who had one to six drinks had a 54% reduction in risk, and those who drank seven to 13 drinks were 31% less likely to develop dementia.
Researcher Kenneth J. Mukamal, MD, MPH of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and colleagues say these results should be interpreted with caution because of alcohol's known effects on the body. But they say the findings are consistent with previous studies that suggest light to moderate drinking can have beneficial effects on long-term brain function.
SOURCE: The Journal of the American Medical Association, March 19, 2003.