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Examining alcohol and cognition in the elderly

Pouring a glass of chardonnay or shaking a martini for my 92-year-old ballet teacher feels like the right thing to do for her. She enjoys an occasional drink; plus, her long life, good health and sharp sensibility are worth toasting.

But previous research has shown that a fine line can exist between positive and negative health effects linked with alcohol consumption. While some studies have found moderate drinking may decrease the risk of dementia and cognitive decline in older people, others suggest that drinking in excess — even if it's just once a month — during middle age can put your wits at risk later on.

So I was interested to read a review paper on the subject in the current issue of Psychiatry Investigation. In the article, researchers set out to evaluate the potential role alcohol may play in reducing the risk of dementia and determine the "optimal pattern of drinking" to minimize cognitive decline among the elderly. According to a university release:

A recent meta-analysis by Peters et al of subjects over the age of 65 in longitudinal studies concluded that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption, in comparison with abstinence, was associated with approximately 35-45% lower risk of cognitive decline or dementia.

The investigators note that while much is known about how alcohol affects the cardiovascular system more study is needed to better understand its impact on cognition. Until future research cautions otherwise, I'll interpret these initial findings to mean it's okay to serve the senior ballerina cocktails as long as we keep the party under control.

Previously: Study offers new insight into how alcoholism disrupts memory function and Does drinking alcohol in moderation improve health?
Photo by jurvetson

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