Published: Wed, February 21, 2018
Medicine | By Earnest Bishop

Heavy drinkers have higher risk of getting dementia

Heavy drinkers have higher risk of getting dementia

The research, published in The Lancet, comes after a study past year claimed one in three cases of dementia could be prevented if the risks of becoming a sufferer were tackled.

New research has shown a strong link between heavy drinking and developing early-onset dementia.

For the new study, researchers combed the medical records of more than one million adults in France diagnosed with dementia from 2008 to 2013.

Heavy drinking could increase dementia risk of all types, especially early-onset dementia, according to a France research.

This prevalence increased in patients with early-onset dementia: 38.9% (22,338/57,353 cases) of early-onset cases were associated with alcohol-related brain damage and 17.6% (10,115/57,353 cases) were associated with other alcohol use disorders.

The study used data from the French National Hospital Discharge database, which holds details on all hospital admissions, including patient demographics, reasons for hospital stay, and treatments received.

One-in-20 of these cases was early-onset dementia (adults who developed dementia before age 65).

"Screening for and reduction of problem drinking, and treatment for alcohol use disorders need to start much earlier in primary care", CAMH Vice-President of Research, Dr. Bruce Pollack, said in the press release.

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"What is most surprising about this paper is that it has taken us so long to recognise that alcohol misuse and dependence are such potent risk factors for the development of dementia", Robert Howard, professor of old age psychiatry at University College London told The Guardian.

"Surprisingly, we've not traditionally considered alcohol and its misuse as an important risk factor for dementia and we were clearly wrong not to have done so".

But overall, people who drink to "chronic" levels were 3.35 times more likely to develop dementia at any age compared to more moderate drinkers.

Results of the study also showed that men and women experienced dementia differently.

Prof Clive Ballard of the University of Exeter Medical School, UK, writing a commentary for the journal, said: "Their study is immensely important and highlights the potential of alcohol use disorders, and possibly alcohol consumption, as modifiable risk factors for dementia prevention ..."

The study's authors agree that although they found a link, they could not prove a cause. In the same period, 945,512 of patients discharged had a diagnosis of alcohol use disorders, with alcohol dependency coded in 86% of those cases (816,160/945,512). They says this could mean that the association between dementia and chronic heavy drinking may be underestimated. This could mean that, because of ongoing stigma regarding the reporting of alcohol-use disorders, the association between chronic heavy drinking and dementia may be even stronger. About 3% of all dementia cases (35,034/1,109,343 cases) were associated with alcohol-related brain damage.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), "heavy drinking" is defined as consuming more than 60 grams of pure alcohol a day for men and more than 40 grams per day for women. In the USA, a standard-size drink contains 14 g of pure alcohol, which is a 12-oz regular beer or a 5-oz glass of wine, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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