Healthy Living

Alcohol Linked To Better Memory, Bigger Hippocampus Among People Older Than 60

drinking beer
People over the age of 60 may benefit from an occasional drink, according to the results of a study. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Good news for people who are over 60, still enjoy a glass of wine every so often, and hope to keep their memory sharp as they age: researchers have now found that moderate alcohol consumption can boost your memory.

In the study, authors examined data from over 660 patients in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort. The patients had completed surveys on their booze consumption and demographics; they were also assessed on their neuropsychological state, whether or not they had the Alzheimer’s risk factor APOE e4, and also received MRIs of their brains. The authors found that “late life, but not midlife, alcohol consumption status is associated with episodic memory and hippocampal volume,” they write in the abstract. “Compared to late life abstainers, moderate consumers had larger hippocampal volume, and light consumers had higher episodic memory.”

Ultimately this means that older people who drank alcohol every so often, in moderation, had higher episodic memory — or the memory of autobiographic events like times, places, and emotions — as well as larger hippocampal brain volume. But this doesn’t always mean there is a causation present; it could simply be a correlation. People who are able to drink alcohol may just be healthier overall than those who can’t due to illness or medication.

“There were no significant differences in cognitive functioning and regional brain volumes during late life according to reported midlife alcohol consumption status,” Brian Downer, lead author of the study and a UTMB Sealy Center on Aging postdoctoral fellow, said in the press release. “This may be due to the fact that adults who are able to continue consuming alcohol into old age are healthier, and therefore have higher cognition and larger regional brain volumes, than people who had to decrease their alcohol consumption due to unfavorable health outcomes.”

The results of the study still remain seemingly controversial, since it’s widely accepted that copious amounts of alcohol can be severely damaging to the brain, central nervous system, and memory. But there may be some truth in the adage, “everything in moderation,” because some research does point to it being beneficial — both for cardiovascular and brain health. A 2011 study found that moderate alcohol intake might actually assist in preventing Alzheimer’s disease, possibly due to alcohol’s anti-inflammatory effects. While very high levels of alcohol may stimulate neuroinflammation, small amounts can actually suppress it. Which is why very small amounts of alcohol is better for you than drinking too much — or being a complete teetotaler.

“Social drinking can be a very positive thing as long as it is not excessive and doesn’t exceed a drink per day for women or two drinks for men,” Christy Tangney, associate professor of clinical nutrition at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, told WebMD. “Light-to-moderate drinking appears to benefit cognitive performance.”

But William H. Thies, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, warns that people with a predisposition to alcoholism should avoid turning to booze to boost memory. “A portion of the population is predisposed to alcoholism and if they are teetotalers, they will never express this tendency. But if given instructions to drink for their health, they likely won’t stop at the moderate stage.”

 

Source: Downer B, Jiang Y, Zanjani F, Fardo D. “Effects of Alcohol Consumption on Cognition and Regional Brain Volumes Among Older Adults.” American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias, 2014.

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