Elderly men and women who do not consume alcoholic drinks have more chances to get mental decline over time than seniors with a history of mild-to-moderate drinking. Alcohol can help to preserve cognitive function in old age.
Some prior studies have pointed to the potential benefits of mild-to-moderate alcohol drinking. One recent study, reported earlier this year by Reuters Health, showed that women over 70 years old who reported having about one alcoholic drink per day were less likely than teetotalers to show signs of mental decline two years later. Other studies have also pointed to the heart-healthy effects of alcohol drinking, particularly red wine.
The current findings are based on data collected from more a thousand Southwestern Pennsylvania residents, aged 65 years and older, over an average seven-year period, according to Reuters. The seniors, none of whom showed signs of dementia at the start of the study, were divided into three groups: one that reported no drinking, a second group that reported minimal drinking - once a month or less - and a third group that reported moderate drinking -more than once a month. More than half of the group reported current drinking, but very few were identified as heavy drinkers, the researchers note.
The study participants' mental function was assessed at the start of the study, with periodic assessments occurring every two years.
Overall, seniors classified as minimal drinkers, and those classified as moderate drinkers, exhibited less decline in their scores on tests that measured general mental status, executive functions and psychomotor speed, respectively, than did seniors who reported no drinking. Those who reported minimal drinking also showed less decline in their scores on tests of learning, including learning a word list, and naming, than did non-drinkers.
These associations were particularly salient when the current drinkers were compared to former drinkers versus when they were compared to seniors with no history of drinking, the report indicates. A.M.