"In our study, older women who drank moderate amounts of alcohol tended to perform better on tests for cognitive function and dementia," said Mark Espeland, Ph.D., lead researcher. "Most of these women drank one or two drinks per day."
The researchers used data from the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study, a large national study to assess the effects of hormone therapy on dementia and cognitive function. As part of the study, women reported how much alcohol they drank daily.
The research, which will be reported in the February 1 issue (Vol. 161, pages 228-38) of the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that women who reported having one or more alcohol drinks daily scored higher on tests of cognitive function than women who reported drinking less. Cognitive function includes concentration, language, memory and abstract reasoning.
"Women who reported drinking one or more drinks a day had a 40 percent lower risk of significant declines in cognitive function over time, compared to women who reported no alcohol intake," said Espeland, a professor of public health sciences.
The researchers followed 4,461 women aged 65 to 79 years for an average of 4.2 years with annual Modified Mini-Mental State Examinations (MMSE), which is a measure of cognitive function, and other tests to detect mild cognitive impairment and probable dementia. Dementia occurs when memory, judgment and thinking ability decline substantially to the point of interfering with basic day-to-day activities.
"There are a number of reasons one might expect moderate alcohol intake to be beneficial," Espeland says. "Some cognitive problems are due to strokes and blood vessels in the brain becoming blocked, and alcohol may reduce the development
Contact: Karen Richardson
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center