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Alcohol May Not Be Kind to the Aging Brain
Date:7/18/2012

30 percent increased risk of developing mental impairment.
  • Moderate drinkers were approximately 60 percent more likely to develop mental problems near the end of the study.
  • Nondrinkers who became drinkers during the study had a 200 percent heightened risk of diminished mental skills.
  • Hoang noted, however, that the study's design didn't allow the researchers to specifically determine the levels of risk based on the women's drinking habits.

    The other study, led by researcher Dr. Iain Lang at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in the United Kingdom, found in a review of nearly 5,100 adults aged 65 or older that those most likely to binge drink were more likely to experience a decline in their mental function.

    Those who said they drank heavily at least once a month were 62 percent more likely to experience the biggest decline in mental skills, and 27 percent more likely to experience the greatest memory problems.

    Hoang, the author of the first study, said future research using brain scans should provide more insight into how drinking patterns affect the brain in the long term.

    Dr. Erik Skovenborg, a Danish physician and founding member of the Scandinavian Medical Alcohol Board, said it's difficult to determine how alcohol affects the brain because it would be unethical or unpractical to assign some people to drink and then follow them over time.

    Further complicating matters is the fact that "happy people with many friends have more opportunities for social drinking," he said.

    The studies were scheduled to be presented Wednesday at the Alzheimer's Association annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada. It should be noted that research presented at meetings hasn't been subjected to the peer-review process that studies typically undergo before they're published in medical journals.

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