A number of studies have shown that the risk of cognitive impairment appears to be reduced among elderly subjects who consume moderate amounts of alcohol; most studies indicate that both light and moderate drinking are associated with a lower risk of dementia, but heavy drinking is often shown to be associated with higher cognitive risk for dementia and cognitive impairment. In some studies, a protective effect of light-to-moderate alcohol intake has been seen primarily among consumers of wine, or sometimes beer/wine. Further, almost all well-done cohort studies have shown that moderate drinkers tend to have longer lifespans.
The present study is based on a group of ageing subjects in California that had been observed closely for several decades; the average follow-up period for these particular analyses were about 14 years. Subjects in this cohort have had multiple assessments of cognitive ability and frailty. The authors conclude that their subjects who reported moderate alcohol consumption in the late 1980s were more likely than non-drinkers during follow up to survive to age 85 years of age, and also to be more likely to survive to age 85 cognitively intact (without evidence of dementia). Also, daily or near-daily drinkers had better health outcomes than those of non-drinkers or less-frequent drinkers.
The Forum considers this to be a well-done study; while it is not based on a large cohort, it provides new data by having extensive evaluation over time in a cohort of community-dwelling elderly subjects. The results support data from most other studies of survival and dementia among moderate drinkers, but adds specific information on survival to age 85 without cognitive impairment. This study and the review of prior scientific data on this subject led Forum members to also raise a question about the typical guidelines for alcohol consumption for the elderly: generally less or no alcohol consumption is advised. Given that current scientific data show that the risks of the common disease outcomes of older subjects (e.g., coronary artery disease, ischemic stroke, osteoporosis, dementia, mortality) are lower among moderate drinkers than among non-drinkers, it may be time to reevaluate such restrictions that are based on age alone.
Reference: Richard EL, Kritz-Silverstein D, Laughlin GA, Fung TT, Barrett-Connor E, McEvoy LK. Alcohol Intake and Cognitively Healthy Longevity in Community-Dwelling Adults: The Rancho Bernardo Study. J Alzheimer’s Dis 2017;9:803–814. DOI 10.3233/JAD-161153