The Grapevine

Dementia And Alcohol: Scientists Try To Establish Connection Between The Two

Dementia is a degenerative brain disease affecting 50 million people worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia, is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. 

In dementia, cognitive functioning of older adults are compromised since they may have trouble thinking clearly and reasoning, along with their memory power declining. Depending on the severity of the dementia suffered and manifested in different forms such as Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal lobar degeneration and vascular dementia, day-to-day functioning becomes challenging.

The effect is so much that they might have to depend on caregivers to take care of them. Early diagnosis is important because caregivers are bearing the brunt. In 2019 alone, unpaid caregivers will provide 18.5 billion hours of care to family members with dementia, valued at $234 billion.  

Approximately 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, the number is expected to reach 14 million according to data put out by the Alzheimer's Association.

So far, scientists have identified a few causes related to lifestyle, environment and genes. A previous study by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) found that dementia was positively associated with heavy consumption of alcohol among people with the apolipoprotein E4 (ApoE4) gene. 

A new study tries to address the gap in information about how exactly alcohol plays a role in increasing the risk of suffering from dementia, particularly among people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). 

What The Study Said

Data was calculated based on information of 3,021 participants enrolled in the Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory Study from 2000 to 2008. All of the participants were older than 72 years and did not suffer from dementia. However, they were closely followed for six years through cognitive assessments. At the time of enrollment, 2,548 participants did not have mild cognitive impairment, while 473 did have MCI.

Dementia & Alcohol Among excessive drinkers, the risk of dementia is increased. Adi Goldstein/Unsplash

‘‘Between 2000 and 2008, the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination (3MSE) and the Clinical Dementia Rating scale were administered every 6 months through the end of follow-up, death, or dementia diagnosis, whichever occurred first,” the researchers said. In all, they were given a series of 10 neuropsychological battery tests from 2004 to 2008 annually. Towards the end of the study, after six years, 512 cases of dementia were reported, of whom 348 cases were Alzheimer's disease.

The participants during their baseline visit gave information about the frequency at which they consumed beer, liquor and wine. More specifically, the number of days in a week they drink, number of beer bottles or cans consumed, glasses of wine and shots of liquor gulped down on special occasions were all reported in detail. 

“We categorized participants according to their alcohol consumption as follows: none, less than 1.0 drink per week, 1.0 to 7.0 drinks per week, 7.1 to 14.0 drinks per week, and more than 14.0 drinks per week,’' the researchers stated.

Senior citizens who drank more than 14 drinks on a weekly basis were compared with other older adults who consumed less than one drink per week. The former scored lower on the cognitive tests taken, thus indicating they were in the MCI zone, which is a stage prior to dementia.

“Among participants with MCI, consumers of more than 14.0 drinks per week had the most severe cognitive decline compared with consumers of less than 1.0 drink per week. These results suggest that while caring for older adults, physicians should carefully assess the full dimensions of drinking behavior and cognition when providing guidance to patients about alcohol consumption,“ the conclusion of the study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open on September 27, read.