ASK DR. MINDY™
MINDY KIM-MILLER, MD, PhD
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My aunt (80) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about 18 months ago (beginning to moderate). My aunt has always been a daily 2-drink person, and has recently begun to consume dangerous quantities of whisky in the early morning hours. Is there a correlation between alcohol and Alzheimer’s? Is there a resource that would help us determine when/if an intervention is called for?
–Anonymous, 57, Riverside
Alcohol and Dementia Risk
The relationship between alcohol consumption and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is complex but basically appears to support the old saying: “Everything in moderation….”
Many studies have focused on the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption on the brain. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to alcohol brain toxicity, malnutrition (especially thiamine deficiency), and hepatic encephalopathy. Two chronic syndromes typically attributed to alcohol use are Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (characterized by severe memory loss and some executive dysfunction usually seen in middle-aged persons), and alcohol-related dementia (characterized by milder deficits in memory usually seen in older persons). These syndromes result from the persisting effects of excessive alcohol use.
Recent studies suggest that light to moderate alcohol use (defined as up to 1 drink/day or 3-4 drinks/day depending on the study) may actually decrease the risk of AD and other dementias. In a study of persons aged 60 years or older, the consumption of alcohol was associated with a 34% lower risk of developing dementia over the course of 16 years. Another study found an approximately 35% reduction in the risk of developing dementia among those who drank up to 14 drinks/week compared to those who did not drink at all. A study following 2,258 nondemented individuals found that adherence to a traditional Mediterranean diet, which includes moderate consumption of alcohol, resulted in a significant reduction in the risk of AD. Moderate drinking has been associated with an approximately 50% reduction in the risk of combined dementia and mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
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