What is the Biggest Modifiable Risk Factor For Dementia? Alcohol

Heavy drinking played a role in more than half of the 57,000 cases studied

Heavy drinking played a role in more than half of the 57,000 cases studied

French scientists spent six years studying 57,000 patients struck down by dementia before the age of 65 and found 57 per cent had been heavy drinkers.

Dr. Michael Schwarzinger, the lead researcher, said the increased risk was likely to be explained by the fact alcohol could cause "permanent structural and functional brain damage".

The findings come from an observational study of more than a million adults who were diagnosed with dementia between 2008-2013. The researchers also noted that although the majority of dementia patients are women, almost 65% of all early onset dementia cases are male.

It found 39 per cent of cases were suffering from alcohol-related brain damage, while a further 18 per cent of sufferers had already been diagnosed as suffering from an alcohol problem.

He continued: "Alcohol use disorders also increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure, which may in turn increase the risk of vascular dementia".

Chronic heavy drinking is a major risk factor for all types of dementia, especially early onset of the disease, according to a study published Wednesday (Feb 21) in The Lancet Public Health.

"However, it in no way suggests moderate alcohol intake could cause early-onset dementia".

"Lastly, heavy drinking is associated with tobacco smoking, depression, and low educational attainment, which are also risk factors for dementia".

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"As a geriatric psychiatrist, I frequently see the effects of alcohol use disorder on dementia, when unfortunately alcohol treatment interventions may be too late to improve cognition", CAMH Vice President of Research Bruce Pollock said.

The study looked specifically at the effect of alcohol-use disorders, and included people who had been diagnosed with mental and behavioural disorders or chronic disease that were linked to chronic alcohol drinking.

Rehm says there are also indirect ways how alcohol impacts on dementia through other risk factors.

According to the research, which was conducted on around 5,000 participants above the age of 64, from 2002 to 2010, men and women who went on binge sessions at least twice a month were at higher risk of dementia.

But for early-onset dementia, there was a significant gender split.

Overall, alcohol abuse was associated with a three times greater risk of all types of dementia and was the "strongest modifiable risk factor" for its onset. For example, alcohol use increases the risk for hypertension, and it leads to liver damage, among other things. Alcohol use disorder was the primary exposure, and dementia was the main outcome. Around three per cent of dementia cases were attributable to alcohol-related brain damage while other alcohol use disorders were recorded in nearly five per cent. Clive Ballard, professor at the University of Exeter Medical School in Britain, described the findings as "immensely important".

It comes just weeks after USA research found moderate drinking was good for the brain.

But Schwarzinger cautioned that people outside France should still take the findings seriously: "While the rate of alcohol use disorders is lower in the U.S., it remains substantial enough to be considered major risk factor for dementia onset".

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