The first links excessive alcohol use with early-onset dementia, according to findings published in the Lancet Public Health Journal. The observational study investigated over a million adult patients in France that had been diagnosed with dementia between 2008 and 2013.
Dementia is a clinical syndrome characterised by the progressive deterioration of cognitive ability and brain function. Dementia is classed as ‘early-onset’ when it occurs before the age of 65-years old. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are 850,000 people in the UK suffering from dementia. Of those, five percent suffer from early-onset dementia. The NHS predicts that by 2025, the number of dementia sufferers will have risen to around one million in the UK.
The data for the study was collected from the French National Hospital Discharge database. In it, researchers set out to identify those with alcohol-use disorders, unearth the precise effects of those disorders and seek out chronic diseases that were attributable to harmful chronic use of alcohol. Within the published paper, alcohol-use disorders were described as ‘the chronic harmful use of alcohol or alcohol dependence’.
They found that alcohol-use disorders were diagnosed in 16.5 percent of the males with dementia and four percent of females with dementia. In men, the risk was increased by a factor of 4.7, while in women, it increased by a factor of 4.3. Even when controlled factors were taken into account such as high blood pressure, obesity and smoking, alcohol still retained a strong association.
Consequently, researchers have issued a warning to chronic heavy drinkers. The World Health Organisation (WHO) categorises chronic heavy drinking as the consumption of over 60 grams of pure alcohol per day for men and 40 grams for women. This equates to three pints of beer or two large glasses of wine. Individuals who consume such high daily quantities could potentially be making themselves vulnerable to developing this debilitating condition.
‘The most novel result is the large contribution of alcohol-use disorders to the burden of dementia over the lifespan,’ said Dr. Michael Schwarzinger, researcher at the Transitional Health Economics Network in Paris and one of the leading authors of the study.
Under closer inspection, a stronger association was found between those with early-onset dementia. Over half the participants in the early-onset group had alcohol-related dementia or an additional diagnosis of alcohol-use disorder.
The study is the largest of its kind and, while others have drawn links between alcoholism and dementia, it is unique in its discovery that early-onset dementia risks could be higher. ‘Given the strength of the association, what is the most surprising to me is that alcohol-use disorders had received so little interest in dementia research and public health policies,’ Schwarzinger said.
The second study to arise this week was conducted by Ulster University. Their investigation focused on elderly residents living in Ireland. The sample examined cognitive dysfunction in more than 5,000 individuals. The enquiry found that people in the most deprived areas were at a 40 percent higher risk of having cognitive impairment than others of the same age in the least deprived areas. These findings have been published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Association.
All of the participants of the study were over the age of 74, with around two thirds being female. The research was carried out by teams from the Nutrition and Geography and Environmental Sciences at Ulster University, who employed new mapping and addressing techniques to draw their conclusions. This new methodology sheds a different light on the official socioeconomic indicators of deprivation in both Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Elderly people that resided in deprived areas were also more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. In comparison to those residing in less deprived locations, ones in deprived areas had generally spent three years less in formal education, higher rates of smoking and alcohol consumption, higher rates of obesity, higher blood pressure and higher risks of diabetes. In sight of these factors, which were taken into account within the test’s analysis, strong links between living conditions and dementia were drawn.
As such, this implicates other factors as important in this case. For example, income inequality and lower access to vital resources could be significantly effecting cognitive functioning and causing dementia.
‘Our study suggests that older people living in the most deprived areas are at higher risk of poor mental health and cognitive impairment. The results of this study have the potential to shape international policy to improve health outcomes in older adults, specifically in the area of preventing dementia,’ said Professor Helene McNulty, director of Ulster University’s Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health.
Both teams of scientists have made a number of recommendations on the coattails of their breakthrough research. The French study suggests more screenings, interventions for heavy drinkers and early treatments for chronic alcohol users should be implemented in order to reduce the risk of early-onset dementia. The study in Ireland suggests that improvements to living conditions and access to health resources need to be applied in more impoverished areas that house elderly people.
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