Middle-aged men who drink too much may be cutting years off their brain’s good health, says a study published in the most recent issue of the journal Neurology.
In what seems to be reason 1,756 to avoid a midlife crisis, a group of researchers from the University College London have concluded that—for men—excessive drinking during one’s 40s and 50s may accelerate mental decline during one’s later years. Women, on the other hand, didn’t appear to experience any significantly ill effects, regardless of how much they imbibed in middle age.
Scientists followed a set of over 7,000 men and women over the course of ten years; tracking their alcohol consumption patterns, as well as their cognitive health. Apart from their findings on men, there were a few statistics pointing to more rapid declines in executive functioning—working memory, problem solving skills, ability to reason—in women who drank too much, but the results weren’t strong enough to draw a definitive correlation.
So how many drinks is too much?
For men, the cut-off for adverse alcohol consumption in this study was 36 grams (two-and-a-half drinks) per day. Male participants who drank more than that amount on a regular basis saw their various mental abilities plummet anywhere from two (reasoning) to six years (memory) faster than their counterparts who imbibed more moderately.
A toast to healthy aging
The effect of alcohol consumption on our health as we age has been the source of much investigation and debate.
These most recent findings coincide with previous research that suggests dramatic changes in drinking habits in mid or late adulthood may increase a person’s risk for cognitive decline as they age. Prior studies have shown that too much alcohol can negatively impact the mental health of both sexes.
Unsurprisingly, moderation appears to be the key for both men and women who still wish to continue to drink throughout their middle and twilight years.
There are, however a few things to keep in mind about alcohol and aging:
Older adults process alcohol differently: age-related loss of lean body mass (muscle), an increase in fat storage, and a decline in important alcohol-processing enzymes means that a person becomes gradually less tolerant to alcohol as they get older. Blood alcohol levels will rise faster in aging adults, who may not be able to handle the same amount of alcohol that they used to.
Drinking and prescription drugs don‘t mix: The typical senior takes at least two prescription medications per day. Many of these drugs can be negatively impacted by alcohol. For example, when combined with alcohol, aspirin’s intestinal bleeding risk is increased.
Doctors are often unaware of alcohol habits: Only a fraction—one out of every six—American adults have been asked about their alcohol use by a medical professional, says a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This lack of communication is especially prevalent in the senior population. A 2011 survey found that fewer than one-in-twenty adults 65 and over have discussed drinking with their doctor in the past year.
The best way to avoid health issues with aging and alcohol is to make sure both you and your loved ones have an honest dialogue with your doctors and pharmacists about alcohol consumption.
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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor