Midlife Alcohol Abuse May Impair Memory and Thinking Later in Life

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Pint of beerThere are already numerous health issues associated with midlife alcohol abuse, but a new report says it may also affect your memory. According to new study findings published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, severe memory impairment later in life is twice as likely among middle-aged adults with a history of alcohol use disorders.

“We already know there is an association between dementia risk and levels of current alcohol consumption — that understanding is based on asking older people how much they drink and then observing whether they develop problems,” Iain A. Lang, PhD, of the University of Exeter Medical School, United Kingdom, said in a press release. “But this is only one part of the puzzle and we know little about the consequences of alcohol consumption earlier in life. 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.”

The team of researchers assessed 6,542 middle-aged adults born between 1931 and 1941 who were first followed up in 1992 and then biannually from 1996 to 2010. At the point of baseline testing, those with a history of alcohol use disorders (AUDs) were younger, less educated, more likely to be male, typically of lower socioeconomic status, more likely to smoke, have a history of cadiovascular disease, or have been unconscious due to a head injury. They were also more likely to have depressive symptoms, lower baseline cognitive function, and shorter follow-up compared to those without a history of AUDs.

At follow up, severe cognitive impairment was present in 90 participants and 74 had severe memory impairment.

The odds of memory impairment were significantly higher with a history of AUDs, while the risk of severe cognitiive impairment was almost doubled with a history of AUDs.

“This finding — that middle-aged people with a history of problem drinking more than double their chances of memory impairment when they are older — suggests three things: that this is a public health issue that needs to be addressed; that more research is required to investigate the potential harms associated with alcohol consumption throughout life; and that the CAGE questionnaire may offer doctors a practical way to identify those at risk of memory/cognitive impairment and who may benefit from help to tackle their relationship with alcohol,” Lang said.

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