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Heavy drinking in middle age linked to memory decline

Heavy drinking in middle age linked to memory decline
27th January 2014

Men who drink heavily when they are middle aged could be at greater risk of developing cognitive conditions in later life, a new study suggests.

Researchers at University College London examined 7,153 civil servants over a period of 20 years and found those who consumed large quantities of alcohol suffered from faster memory decline than non-drinkers and moderate drinkers.

Published in the Neurology journal, the study involved 5,054 men and 2,099 women aged between 44 and 69 who worked in Whitehall during the 1980s.

Over the course of a decade, participants were asked about their alcohol consumption three times before being asked to take part in a number of memory tests.

They were assessed again after a further five and ten years.

Men who drank more than 4.5 units of alcohol each day were found to have the fastest decline in cognitive ability, but no changes were found in women regardless of how much they consumed.

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at the Alzheimer's Research UK, said the study could serve as a reason for people to stick to any New Year's resolution they made about drinking less.

"Observational studies such as this can be important for identifying factors that may influence the risk of memory decline or disease, but it's difficult to pinpoint cause and effect with this type of research," he added.

"The people in this study did not have dementia, but memory decline can be a precursor to dementia and understanding the risk factors for this decline could be important for preventing the condition."

Dr Ridley went on to say that research into ways the brain can be kept healthy is vital and needs continued investment.

Previous studies have suggested that the risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease can be significantly lowered by consuming a healthy and balanced diet as well as taking regular exercise.