Heavy drinking a risk factor for dementia
Dementia isn’t a disease in itself - rather, it refers to symptoms of a number of brain-related illnesses. Among these are memory loss, personality changes, confusion, and difficulty performing everyday activities. More than 400,000 Australians live with dementia and its most common form is Alzheimer’s disease.
Using data from all patients older than 20 admitted to hospital in metropolitan France between 2008 and 2013, the researchers analysed the incidence of alcohol use disorders and the onset of dementia. They excluded patients who had other conditions that might encourage the development of dementia, as well as those who had early-onset dementia (before the age of 65). They also looked at other factors that are known to contribute to dementia (like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes). Comparing the data allowed them to see if there was an association between those with an alcohol use disorder (or the other factors) and a greater risk of dementia.
From the more than 30 million patients discharged from French hospitals in the study’s six year period, more than one million were diagnosed with dementia. The authors found a significant association between alcohol use disorders and dementia. This was consistent across age groups and across different types of dementia. Both men and women had a similar increased risk, though dementia onset was later in women than in men.
The study’s authors say that their research indicates the burden of dementia connected to alcohol consumption is much bigger than previously assumed. They advise doctors to be on the lookout for alcohol dependence in patients and to support the reduction of alcohol consumption in people under their care.