Drinking in middle age can make you 'twice as likely to have severe memory problems'

Study adds to the evidence of alcohol's 'hidden cost' in later life

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The Independent Online

Problem drinking can cause trouble at any age but a new study has shown that it can be particularly dangerous for men and women in their 50s and 60s.

Research published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry this month found that excessive drinking in middle age more than doubled the risk of severe memory loss in later life.

"When we talk about drinking too much, the media often focuses on young people ending up in A&E after a night out," Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer’s Society charity, told the Associated Press.

"However, there's also a hidden cost of alcohol abuse, given the mounting evidence that alcohol abuse can also impact on cognition later in life.”

Individuals in the study were considered to be ‘problem drinkers’ if they answered yes to any of the four items from the 'Cage' questionnaire (Cage stands for cut down, annoyed, guilty and eye-opener):

  • Do you ever feel you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Are you annoyed by people criticizing your habits?
  • Do you ever feel guilty about drinking?
  • Do you ever drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves of recover from a hangover?

The study adds to the mounting evidence that alcohol abuse can have ‘hidden costs’ in later life, including impairing cognition and increasing the risk of various health problems.

Lead researcher Dr Iain Lang from the University of Exeter medical school said:  "We already know there is an association between dementia risk and levels of current alcohol consumption – that understanding is based on asking older people how much they drink and then observing whether they develop problems.

"But this is only one part of the puzzle, and we know little about the consequences of alcohol consumption earlier in life. What we did here is investigate the relatively unknown association between having a drinking problem at any point in life and experiencing problems with memory later in life."

Dr Lang added that anyone who answers in the positive to the Cage questions should keep their drinking within the recommended daily and weekly amounts, although cutting out drinking altogether was not necessary.