Heavy drinkers are exposed to the risk of dementia
Those who drink a lot and a lot of alcohol are at high risk of developing dementia early. This emerges from the largest study ever carried out on this subject. In around 39 percent of the 57,000 cases of early onset dementia examined, those affected were preceded by heavy alcohol consumption. Alcohol problems were diagnosed in 18 percent of cases. Overall, the scientists were able to associate alcohol problems with a three times higher risk of all types of dementia.
Dementia is a common disease that affects five to seven percent of people over the age of 60 and older and is a major cause of disability in people over the age of 60 worldwide. The aim of the study was to examine the relationship between alcohol problems and the risk of dementia, with a focus on early onset dementia before the age of 65. The study was carried out by the team led by Dr. Michaël Schwarzinger from the “Translational Health Economics Network” in Paris and recently published in the specialist journal “The Lancet Public Health”.
Heavy drinking in the general population should be reduced
The researchers analyzed hospital data from adult patients admitted to France between 2008 and 2013 for alcohol consumption and dementia. 57,353 patents suffered from early onset dementia. In 22,338 people, i.e. 38.9 percent, excessive alcohol consumption or alcohol addiction was found. The scientists named alcohol consumption disorders as a significant risk factor for all types of dementia, which also includes Alzheimer's. The research team suggests that patients should be examined more closely for drinking habits so that treatment may be offered. In addition, other measures should be considered to reduce heavy drinking in the general population.
When do you count as a heavy drinker?
According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), you are considered a heavy drinker if you drink more than 60 grams of alcohol a day at least once a month. In women, heavy drinking starts at 40 grams of alcohol. This amount of alcohol once consumed is responsible for many acute consequences such as alcohol poisoning, injuries and violence.
This type of drinking is harmful even to people whose average alcohol consumption is relatively low. You drink over 60 grams of alcohol, for example, if you drink five bottles of beer (330 ml each) or six glasses of wine (100 ml each). 40 grams of alcohol are in just over a liter of beer or a little less than half a liter of wine.
Guidelines for alcohol abuse
Dr. Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, commented on the study in a press release: "This well-done study examined the medical records of thousands of people and highlighted a strong link between harmful alcohol consumption and the risk of dementia." This is not the first time that research uncovered a link between alcohol abuse and dementia, and the results would add weight to calls for guidelines on alcohol abuse.
Not only heavy drinkers are affected
“Since this study only looked at people who were hospitalized for chronic heavy alcohol consumption, the full extent of the relationship between alcohol consumption and the risk of dementia is not shown,” says Imarisio. Previous research had shown that even moderate alcohol consumption can have negative effects on brain health. People should not have the impression that only drinking until they go to hospital is a risk.
How can you protect yourself from dementia?
"Steps to curb the amount of alcohol you consume can have far-reaching health benefits and are not limited to improving brain health," said Dr. Imarisio. While there is no sure way to prevent dementia completely, measures such as drinking in moderation, staying physically and mentally active, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking and maintaining weight, cholesterol and blood pressure are beneficial to support his brain in old age.
The study meets with broad support in the medical world
Professor Clive Ballard of the “University of Exeter Medical School” in Great Britain, wrote in a comment to the study: “Your study is immensely important and shows the potential of alcohol consumption disorders and alcohol consumption as modifiable risk factors for the prevention of dementia.” Dr. James Nicholls, director of policy and research development at Alcohol Research UK, commented on the study: "If alcohol consumption increases the risk of dementia, there is a huge social and economic impact." Widely accessible alcohol treatments would have important long-term benefits, including reducing dementia in society. (vb)