Alcohol consumption and risk of dementia.





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As baby boomers age and the senior population swells, more people than ever before are faced with the impact of aging on the brain. Loss of memory and thinking ability is one of aging's most tragic consequences. Without memory, we lose our sense of identity and relationship to the world around us.

Senile dementia is the medical term for senility, the gradual loss of mental function that so often occurs with aging. Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of senile dementia, accounts for more than 60 percent of the cognitive function disorders in the aging population.

Alzheimer's is a debilitating disease that causes severe degeneration of brain tissue. Plaque deposits accumulate in the spaces between brain cells. The cells themselves form twisted, spaghetti-like masses called "neurofibrillary tangles." Why these changes happen in the brains of some people but not others remains a matter of speculation. Scientists are unsure as to which of these abnormalities occurs first, the plaque or the tangles. What triggers them in the first place is not known for certain.

Although the exact cause is unknown, scientists are investigating what certain risk factors may determine dementia or Alzheimer's disease. In the current journal Neurology, researchers at the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Denmark explored the role that alcohol could play in the risk of dementia. Individuals taken from the Copenhagen City Heart Study were given an examination to determine the prevalence of this disease and consumption of alcohol. 83 cases of dementia were recorded and the rest of the patients were used as control subjects. Weekly or monthly wine intake was associated with a decreased risk of dementia. These results did not differ between men and women. The authors concluded that, " the results do not indicate that people should start drinking or increase wine consumption to avoid dementia, but instead suggest that certain substances in wine may reduce the occurrence of dementia."1


1. Truelsen T, et al. Amount and type of alcohol and risk of dementia. Neurology. Nov 2002;59:1313-1319.