With continuously increasing life expectancy, the number of people living with dementia might triple by 2050. It might be important to understand the effect of alcohol consumption on ageing outcomes. A recent study, led by researchers from French national institute of health and medical research and University College London, reported association between both the abstention and excessive alcohol consumption in midlife and an increased risk for dementia in early old age. These findings were published in the journal BMJ.
Researchers evaluated 9087 British civil servants (aged, 35-55 years) from Whitehall II study. Alcohol consumption was assessed at regular intervals between 1985 and 1993 and was categorised as abstinence 1-14 units/week, and >14 units/week. Linkage to hospital, mental health services and mortality registers until 2017 were used to identify incident dementia.
Over a mean follow-up of 23 years, 397 cases of dementia were recorded. Compared to alcohol consumption of 1-14 units/week, abstinence in midlife was associated with a higher risk for dementia (aHR, 1.47; 95% CI, 1.15-1.89). For those who consumed >14 units/week, every 7-unit increase in alcohol consumption was associated with 17% (95% CI, 4-32%) increased risk for dementia. Alcohol consumption trajectories from midlife to early old age supported these findings with both long-term abstainers and those reporting decreased alcohol consumption having an increased risk for dementia.
Authors commented: “These findings encourage use of lower thresholds of alcohol consumption in guidelines to promote cognitive health at older ages.” However, they warn that their findings should not motivate absenters to start drinking, given the known detrimental effects of alcohol consumption for mortality, neuropsychiatric disorders, liver cirrhosis and cancer.