Heavy drinking link to greater cognitive impairment in older adults

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Current heavy drinking in older adults was associated with poorer global cognitive function, learning, memory, and motor function. Furthermore, a lifetime history of alcohol dependence was associated with poorer function in the same neuro-cognitive domains.

Heavy drinking can lead to neuro-physiological and cognitive changes ranging from disrupted sleep to more serious neuro-toxic effects. Aging can also contribute to cognitive decline. Several studies on the interaction of current heavy drinking and aging have had varied results. This study sought to elucidate the relations among age, heavy drinking, and neuro-cognitive function.

Researchers had 66 participants (35 women, 31 men), recruited from the Brown University Centre for AIDS Research, undergo a comprehensive neuro-cognitive battery of testing. Current heavy drinkers (n=21) were classified using National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism criteria and structured clinical interviews and, further, were compared to non-drinkers and moderate drinkers (n=45). About 53% of the total population had a lifetime history of alcohol dependence (AD). Neuro-cognitive data were grouped according to global cognitive function, attention/executive function, learning, memory, motor function, verbal function, and speed of processing.

Results showed that current heavy drinking in older adults was associated with poorer global cognitive function, learning, memory, and motor function. Furthermore, a lifetime history of AD was associated with poorer function in the same neuro-cognitive domains, as well as the attention/executive domain, notwithstanding age. In summary, although current heavy drinking is associated with significant impairment in a number of neuro-cognitive domains, it appears that a history of AD is associated with lasting negative consequences for neuro-cognitive function.

Abstract
Background: The acute consumption of excessive quantities of alcohol causes well-recognized neurophysiological and cognitive alterations. As people reach advanced age, they are more prone to cognitive decline. To date, the interaction of current heavy alcohol (ethanol [EtOH]) consumption and aging remains unclear. This study tested the hypothesis that negative consequences of current heavy alcohol consumption on neurocognitive function are worse with advanced age. Further, we evaluated the relations between lifetime history of alcohol dependence and neurocognitive function
Methods: Sixty-six participants underwent a comprehensive neurocognitive battery. Current heavy EtOH drinkers were classified using National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism criteria (EtOH heavy, n = 21) based on the Timeline follow-back and a structured clinical interview and compared to nondrinkers, and moderate drinkers (EtOH low, n = 45). Of the total population, 53.3% had a lifetime history of alcohol dependence. Neurocognitive data were grouped and analyzed relative to global and domain scores assessing: global cognitive function, attention/executive function, learning, memory, motor function, verbal function, and speed of processing.
Results: Heavy current EtOH consumption in older adults was associated with poorer global cognitive function, learning, memory, and motor function (ps < 0.05). Furthermore, lifetime history of alcohol dependence was associated with poorer function in the same neurocognitive domains, in addition to the attention/executive domain, irrespective of age (ps < 0.05).
Conclusions: These data suggest that while heavy current alcohol consumption is associated with significant impairment in a number of neurocognitive domains, history of alcohol dependence, even in the absence of heavy current alcohol use, is associated with lasting negative consequences for neurocognitive function.

Authors
Adam J Woods; Eric C Porges; Vaughn E Bryant; Talida Seider; Assawin Gongvatana; Christopher W Kahler; Suzanne de la Monte; Peter M Monti; Ronald A Cohen

Science Daily report
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research abstract


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