Alcohol Causes Difficulty in Later Life

According to a new study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, people with a history of alcohol use disorder, which can include those drinking within recommended limits, are twice as likely to have severe memory problems in subsequent years. The study adds to the growing body of evidence linking excessive drinking to impaired mental processing.

Researchers at the University of Exeter in England examined records from a major longitudinal study that tracked the health of 6542 Americans born between 1931 and 1941. Participants answered an alcohol questionnaire when they were interviewed beginning is 1992, when participants were in their 50s and 60s, and had follow-up cognitive assessments every other year from 1996 to 2010. Sixteen percent reported a drinking problem at some point, and the results showed that these participants were far more likely to show memory problems on the later tests. Ninety experienced severe thinking impairment and 74 experienced severe memory impairment.

Lead researcher, Dr. Ian Lang said,

“We know that alcohol is bad for the brain in general, but it’s not just how much you drink but how it affects you. What we did here is investigate the relatively unknown association between having a drinking problem at any point in life and experiencing problems with memory later in life.”

Dr. Lang advises people to drink within the recommended daily and “weekly” amounts. Sticking to recommended limits of one or two units per day for women and three to four for men, can hide the fact that some people have a drinking problem. Daily drinking even within suggested limits is excessive when practiced over years or decades. It will eventually affect long-term health.

Although the study does not definitively prove a causal relationship between memory erosion and excessive alcohol use, it does indicate a connection between the two. On top of the well-known health implications, cognitive function is yet another potential cost of alcohol abuse.

Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking and drinking within the guidelines all contribute to better health overall.