Largest study of its kind finds excessive alcohol strongly associated with early-onset dementia

The Straits Times

If you have a habit of drinking to drown your sorrows, be careful not to overindulge.

A new and largest study of its kind has found that heavy alcohol use could increase one’s risk for all types of dementia, and especially for the early-onset of dementia before 65 years of age.

The report published in The Lancet Public Health journal used data from the French National Hospital Discharge of over a million dementia patients, with 57,000 being early-onset dementia patients.

According to Science Daily, researchers found that 57 per cent of early-onset dementia patients studied had chronic heavy drinking problems.

Chronic heavy drinking is defined as having more than four drinks a day on average for men, and more than three drinks a day for women

“The findings indicate that heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are the most important risk factors for dementia, and especially important for those types of dementia which start before age 65, and which lead to premature deaths,” Science Daily quoted the study’s co-author and Director of the CAMH Institute for Mental Health Policy Research Dr Jürgen Rehm as saying.

Dr Rehm added that alcohol use disorders can shorten life expectancy by more than 20 years, with dementia being one of the leading causes of death.

Gender difference

Results of the study also showed that men and women experienced dementia differently.

While women were overall more likely to be diagnosed with dementia, men formed 64.9 per cent of patients diagnosed with early-onset dementia.

Leading author of the study Dr Michael Schwarzinger, a researcher at the Transitional Health Economics Network in Paris, was quoted by CNN as saying that the gender difference was “somewhat unsurprising” as men in France tend to have heavier alcohol consumption compared to women.

Not only does ethanol have a toxic effect on the long-term structure and function of the brain, Dr Schwarzinger said that heavy drinking could also increase risk of high blood pressure, diabetes as well as cardiovascular diseases.

He also identified alcohol use disorders with other independent risk factors such as tobacco smoking, lower education, depression, and hearing loss.