For people over 60, light or moderate alcohol intake is associated with better recall of past events, according to a new study.
Links were also found between increased size of the hippocampus — the area of the brain crucial to memory — and moderate alcohol consumption.
The study, published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, used data from almost 700 people who have been followed since the 1970s (Downer et al., 2014).
They completed questionnaires about their alcohol intake, along with a battery of neuropsychological test which assessed their memory for past events, along with other cognitive factors.
The results showed that people who drank alcohol lightly or moderately had better memories for past events, although there was no association with overall mental ability.
Dr. Brian Downer, who led the study, cautioned of alternative explanations for the results:
“There were no significant differences in cognitive functioning and regional brain volumes during late life according to reported midlife alcohol consumption status.
This may be due to the fact that adults who are able to continue consuming alcohol into old age are healthier, and therefore have higher cognition and larger regional brain volumes, than people who had to decrease their alcohol consumption due to unfavorable health outcomes.”
That said, this is not the only study to identify this link.
Animal studies have supported the idea that alcohol may have a protective effect.
These have found that moderate alcohol consumption can preserve the hippocampal area of the brain by encouraging the regeneration of nerve tissue.
Alcohol may also increase the release of chemicals in the brain which boost its information processing functions.
Naturally, it’s proven that extended periods of alcohol abuse — defined as five or more drinks a day — can damage the brain.
But, light to moderate alcohol intake has been consistently linked with lower risk of dementia and cognitive decline in later years.
Image credit: Dave Dugdale