Binge Drinking & Cognitive Decline

Older adults who binge drink show a drop in cognitive and memory function

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Cognitive decline and memory loss are precursors to dementia. Adults over the age of 65 who binge drink have shown signs of memory problems and loss of cognitive function.

A recent study looked at a large group of elderly people who participated in binge drinking at least once or twice a month. Rates of cognitive decline suggested that binge drinking might contribute to future dementia.

This study was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver, Canada on July 18, 2012.

"Binge drinking is dangerous."

Dr. Iain Lang, professor of public health at Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry (PCMD) at the University of Exeter in the UK,  investigated the relationship between older adult binge drinking and dementia.

The study looked at 5,075 people from the US Health and Retirement Study (HRS), aged 65 and older. Beginning in 2002, they followed participants for eight years.

Researchers monitored binge drinking, which was classified as consuming four drinks or more in one sitting, memory and cognitive function.

Results showed that 8 percent of men and 2 percent of women participated in binge drinking at least once a month. Binge drinking at least twice a month was reported by 4 percent of men and 1 percent of women.

Researchers then compared the rates of the two binge drinking groups to cognitive function and memory assessment results.

The group who participated in binge drinking at least once per month was 62 percent more likely to experience a 10 percent drop in cognitive function. This same group was 27 percent more likely to experience a 10 percent drop in memory capabilities.

The group who participated in binge drinking at least twice per month were over two and a half times more likely to experience a 10 percent drop in both cognitive function and memory capabilities.

Dr. Lang said, “In our group of community-dwelling older adults, binge drinking is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline. That’s a real worry because there’s a proven link between cognitive decline and risk of dementia.”

Results of the study took into account age and education levels to adjust for factors that could adjust memory and cognitive function.

Dr. Lang urged awareness for doctors and the elderly that binge drinking is contributing to this decline.

Dr. Lang said, “[P]olicymakers and public health specialists should know that binge drinking is not just a problem among adolescents and younger adults. We have to start thinking about older people when we are planning interventions to reduce binge drinking.”

This research was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver, Canada on July 18, 2012.  Because this study has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, its results should be regarded as preliminary and still require review by researchers in the field. No information was available regarding funding or disclosures.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 19, 2012
Last Updated:
January 17, 2013