Alcohol as the Main Risk Factor for Dementia

Ana Roibu

Dementia is often used as an umbrella term for conditions that share common symptoms such as impaired memory and personality and behavioural changes. The most common types include Dementia with Lewy Bodies, Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease and Frontotemporal dementia (FTD).  It should be noted that dementia is not a natural part of growing old; it is a disease of the brain. Although it is most common in older people, younger people (under 65) can get it, too. The risk of dementia is greater for females, as two-thirds of people with dementia are women.

Chronic alcoholism has been associated with memory loss and neurocognitive deficiencies, especially in neuroplasticity and connectivity. Studies have shown that cognitive deficits, especially dementia caused by alcohol abuse, have been associated with a decrease in the levels of neurotrophin brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Early alcohol exposure has also been shown to have an effect on cognition, which is linked to the deficits in neurotrophin signaling. Disorders induced by exaggerated alcohol use have been shown to reduce life expectancy by up to 20 years.

Alcohol has also been shown to be the main cause for early onset dementia, which is dementia before the age of 65. Over 57% of these cases were due to alcohol abuse. Screening, brief interventions for heavy drinking, and treatment for alcohol use disorders should be implemented to reduce the alcohol-attributable burden of dementia. The earlier an alcohol-related disorder is diagnosed, the better the outcomes of the treatments.

On the other hand, drinking no alcohol was also shown to be a risk factor for dementia. More evidence is needed, as other risk factors may also be the cause of dementia.

Edited by Shreya Singireddy