There has long been speculation that alcohol consumption may contribute to dementia risk. As dementia incidence has been accelerating in recent decades, concerted research efforts have aimed to understand the mechanisms underlying the disease so that we can more effectively prevent or halt the disease. With the population living longer and dementia largely impacting older adults, there is a growing urgency to elucidate the disease and develop treatments.
A new meta-analysis published in the Journal Addiction suggests that there may not be a strong relationship between alcohol and dementia in older adults. The analysis involved data from nearly 25,000 adults over the age of 60 across six continents. The mean age of study participants was 71.8, and 54.2% of the participants were female. Data came from 15 epidemiological cohort studies.
Physicians helped scientists compared the risk of dementia in those who abstained from alcohol, those who were occasional drinks, those who were light to moderate drinkers, and those who were moderate to heavy drinks. Surprisingly, compared to those who fully abstained from alcohol, the risk of dementia was lower in those who consumed alcohol, regardless of the amount they consumed. Amongst those who consumed alcohol, there was also no significant difference of dementia risk based on consumption amount.
Based on these results, the authors of the study conclude that abstinence from alcohol may be associated with a heightened risk for dementia. Nonetheless, the study did not investigate potential confounding factors for these results. For instance, it could be the case that those who choose to abstain from alcohol have some heightened risk for dementia that is unrelated to the effects of alcohol. More research into how alcohol could contribute to dementia could help to clarify this relationship.
Mewton L, Visontay R, Hoy N, et al. The relationship between alcohol use and dementia in adults aged more than 60 years: a combined analysis of prospective, individual-participant data from 15 international studies. Addiction. 2022;10(9):28. doi:10.1111/ADD.16035