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Research Summary

Moderate Alcohol Intake and Cognitive Decline in Elderly Women

To examine the effects of moderate alcohol intake on cognitive function, researchers evaluated 12,480 participants (aged 70–81 years) in the Nurses' Health Study and reassessed them 2 years later (approximately 90% follow-up). They used tests of memory, fluency, and attention to determine cognitive impairment (defined as the lowest 10% of scores) and decline (defined as the highest 10% of score decreases).

  • In analyses adjusted for potential confounders, moderate drinkers (consumed 1.0–14.9 g of alcohol per day) had significantly lower risks of cognitive impairment and decline on tests of general cognition and verbal memory than did nondrinkers (relative risks 0.8–0.9).
  • Consuming 15–30 g of alcohol per day, beverage type, and ApoE genotype were not significantly associated with cognitive function.

Comments:

This is a well-conducted study of stable drinkers (those recently changing their intake and ex-drinkers were excluded) that used valid measures of cognitive function. As an editorialist points out, however, the study is limited by its observational design: it is plausible that moderate drinking produces cognitive benefits, or that women in good health choose to drink moderately. Further, assessing cognitive function twice may not be adequate to determine the change in function over time. Nevertheless, these findings echo those from many previous studies and support the need for continued efforts to elucidate the effects of alcohol intake among older adults.

R. Curtis Ellison, MD

Reference:

Stampfer MJ, Kang JH, Chen J, et al. Effects of moderate alcohol consumption on cognitive function in women. NEJM. 2005;352(3):245–253.

Evans DA, Bienias JL. Alcohol consumption and cognition. NEJM. 2005;352(3):289–290.


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