A new study has found a link between binge drinking in older adults and the risk of developing dementia.
Researchers from the University of Exeter said they undertook the study because so little is known about the cognitive effects of binge drinking in older people.
“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,” said Dr. Iain Lang, who led the study.
“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.”
The research team analyzed data from 5,075 participants aged 65 and older in the Health and Retirement Study, a biennial, national survey of U.S. adults. Initial data was collected in 2002 and participants were followed for eight years.
The researchers said consumption of four or more drinks on one occasion was considered binge drinking. Cognitive function and memory were assessed using the Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status.
The research showed binge drinking once a month or more was reported by 8.3 percent of men and 1.5 percent of women, while binge drinking twice a month or more was reported by 4.3 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women.
Among the researchers’ findings:
- Participants who reported binge drinking at least once a month were 62 percent more likely to be in the group experiencing the greatest 10 percent of decline in cognitive function, and 27 percent more likely to be in the group experiencing the greatest 10 percent of memory decline;
- Participants reporting heavy drinking twice a month or more were 2.5 times more likely to be in the group experiencing the greatest 10 percent of decline in cognitive function and also 2.5 times more likely to be in the group experiencing the greatest 10 percent of decline in memory.
The link between binge drinking and increased risk of cognitive decline is a real worry, according to Lang.
“There’s a proven link between cognitive decline and risk of dementia,” he said.
“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.”
This research has a number of implications, he added.
“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,” he said.
“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.”