Page last updated: Monday, October 02, 2006
Moderate alcohol consumption is associated with better cognitive function amongst US veterans
A recently published study sought to determine whether light to moderate drinking is associated with better cognitive function among older men. Participants included men aged ≥ 65 years in a Veteran’s Administration (VA) primary care clinic. Current (past 1 year) and lifetime use, cognitive functioning (as determined by the Trail Making Part B, Symbol Digit, FAS, and Hopkins Verbal Learning tests), and demographic, psychosocial, and medical status were obtained using standardized methods. The 760 subjects had a mean age of 74 yrs (range, 65-89).

The authors report that current drinkers (n = 509), as compared with never (n = 31) and former (n = 220) drinkers, demonstrated significantly better cognitive performance on 3 (Trails B, Symbol Digit, and Hopkins Verbal Learning) of the 4 tests (P < .01 for all comparisons). In multiple linear regression models, current light to moderate drinking (i.e., £ 7 drinks per week), as compared to a reference group of never and former drinkers, was associated with better performance on the Trails B, Symbol Digit, and Hopkins Verbal Learning tests (P < .01 for all comparisons). The number of years drinking 7 or fewer drinks per week also was independently associated with better cognitive performance. They state that their findings are consistent with the hypothesis that light to moderate drinking confers cognitive benefits to older persons.

Curtis Ellison, director of the Institute on Liestyle and Health at Boston Universtiy comments that ‘while this study is in line with most other epidemiologic studies showing that moderate drinkers tend to have better scores on cognitive tests than non-drinkers, I am concerned that this study had too few lifetime abstainers to make valid comparisons. Mixing lifetime abstainers with ex-drinkers is not appropriate, as ex-drinkers tend to include some who were former abusers (who almost always have higher rates of disease and poorer cognition). In fact, the authors report that 36% of the former drinkers and 20% of the current drinkers were “positive” on the CAGE tests for alcohol abuse, and a certain percentage (not specified) said that they had stopped drinking because of an “alcohol problem.” However, the results when excluding such subjects are not presented.

The study did not report the pattern of drinking. Thus, for the 7 drinks/week subjects, we do not know how many consumed their 7 drinks on 7 days, or how many consumed them on only 1 or 2 days. The study did suggest that reporting more than 28 drinks/week was associated with poorer performance on the cognitive tests’.

Source: Light to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with better cognitive function among older male veterans receiving primary care. Van Ness PH, Hawkins KA, Towle V, Concato J, Guo Z. Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry Neurol 2006;19:98-105.

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