Alcohol 'major risk' factor for early-onset dementia

Boozing ups risk of dementia study finds

"Our findings suggest that the burden of dementia attributable to alcohol use disorders is much larger than previously thought".

This has huge public health implications for the prevention of dementia, for which we have no current cures or significant treatments.' Dr David Llewellyn, of the University of Exeter, praised the 'thought-provoking" study but stressed other factors may be at play, adding: "'Reducing heavy drinking may not reduce dementia risk or delay its onset'.

It included all patients over 20 discharged with alcohol-related brain damage, vascular dementia or other forms of brain-wasting diseases like Alzheimer's.

"Alcohol-related dementia should be recognised as one of the causes of early-onset dementia".

Those who are at risk of dementia are people consuming more than a couple of alcoholic drinks a day.

The observational study by Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) looked at 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia (before the age of 65).

But even when the researchers controlled for factors like high blood pressure, obesity and tobacco smoking, heavy alcohol use was still associated with a more than threefold increase in dementia among both sexes.

That equates to around six or more standard drinks for men and four for women.

But Schwarzinger cautioned that people outside France should still take the findings seriously: "While the rate of alcohol use disorders is lower in the United States of America, it remains substantial enough to be considered major risk factor for dementia onset".

Chief medical advisor for Dementia Australia, Professor Michael Woodward, is critical of the study's results.

Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to cognitive decline and permanent brain damage. It's not a new finding but nor does it [conclusively] show the impact of alcohol on the brain.

The study's authors agree that although they found a link, they could not prove a cause.

While researchers weren't able to determine why alcohol was the top risk factor, they were able to identify two major pathways as to why that may be. But experts said more should be done to tackle drinking levels across the population.

"As a geriatric psychiatrist, I frequently see the effects of alcohol use disorder on dementia, when unfortunately alcohol treatment interventions may be too late to improve cognition", CAMH Vice President of Research Bruce Pollock said.

Prof Woodward is sceptical about the introduction of such measures in Australia without harder evidence to prove that alcohol causes dementia.

Though heavy alcohol use increased the risk of dementia in general, the association was shown to be stronger in men. It revealed that people who engaged in binge drinking had a 62% higher chance of suffering from decline in cognitive function.

Medical chiefs in the United Kingdom recommend the consumption of no more than 14 units a week, equivalent to seven pints of average-strength lager or nine 125ml glasses of average-strength wine. "And do everything in moderation".

Research suggests multiple ways heavy alcohol use can lead to dementia. Basically, he says, "just do what's good for your heart and brain".

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