Elderly people who drink moderately are less likely to suffer dementia than teetotalers, though seniors who drink too much add to their risk, researchers said Tuesday.
Seeking to explain their findings, the researchers said consuming moderate amounts of alcohol prevents hardening of the arteries that leads to damaging strokes, lessens the risk of brain lesions and helps blood vessels to function.
Better blood flow generally lessens the risks of vascular-related dementia, usually caused by strokes.
The study of 373 dementia patients older than 65 and a like number of control subjects revealed that the lowest rates of dementia were among subjects who drank between one and six alcoholic drinks a week, who had half the risk of teetotalers.
Those who abstained from alcohol and who consumed between seven and 13 drinks a week were at about equal risk of developing dementia, while those who drank more than 13 drinks a week had a 22% higher risk.
Men who drank heavily, as opposed to women, were particularly susceptible and were at double the risk of developing dementia, the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. said.
Even so, study author Kenneth Mukamal of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston cautioned that he couldn’t recommend that older adults begin drinking moderately solely because of the findings, but should discuss alcohol use with their doctors and “make appropriate decisions based on these discussions.”