Age Matters Clinic


Toronto Geriatric Assessment and Memory Clinic

How Does Heavy Drinking Affect Your Memory As You Age?

There have long been connections between alcohol consumption and overall health. Some of those connections are good and some of them are not. While a glass of red wine has been proven to be beneficial, heavy drinking can impact your liver and may even contribute to memory loss. A recent study done in the UK showed that heavy alcohol consumption lead to faster memory decline in men as they age. Interestingly enough, the study found that it did not impact women's memory function nearly as much.

What did the study itself entail? It looked at 7000 people living within the United Kingdom that were between 35 and 55 years old. They filled in questionnaires about their drinking habits three times over a period of 10 years. In addition to filling out those questionnaires, they also took cognitive tests. Those tests were used to measure mental abilities and any decline in memory. Each of the tests looked at short-term memory changes as well as long-term changes and general comprehension. The results of the tests were compared to their previous answers and drinking patterns.

Since they did not find significant links to heavy drinking and memory loss in women, the study then became focused on how long-term memory loss occurs in men. Could it really be possible that drinking excessively in middle age could lead to reduced memory function as a senior citizen? If the published results are any indication, it appears this may be so.

The study found that those who drank heavily had a much faster decline in their ability to retain and process new information. In fact, researchers believe that heavy drinking habits speed up mental decline by two full years. This was compared to men who drank light to moderate amounts of alcohol. Drinking too much wasn't just found to impact long-term memory function, though. The results of the study also found that heavy drinking "sped up short-term memory loss by nearly six years." Talk about your astounding figures.

It is clear that drinking too much is bad for your health...but how much is considered too much? Well, according to this particular study, heavy drinking was considered four and a half units of alcohol per day. In comparison, light to moderate drinking was defined as two and one third units per day or less. What does that actually mean? Think of it this way - a shot of hard liquor was considered one unit, a glass of wine was two, and a pint of lager was three.

While the results of this study are certainly something to think about, there is still much left to discover. For instance, why is this link higher in men than in women? And what impact does this information have on the lives of senior citizens? Clearly, more research needs to be done on this topic. If stronger links between alcohol consumption and memory loss are established, preventative measures may be as simple as skipping that second glass of wine at dinner.

So, how does heavy drinking affect your memory as you age? According to the latest research, it may lead to a rapid decline in both your short-term and long-term memory. One thing is clear: the key to a healthy mind and body is to drink in moderation.

Dr. David Tal has more than twenty years of clinical experience. He strongly believes that medical treatment can improve the life of Alzheimer's and memory loss patients. His participation at the Age Matters Clinic allows him to share his knowledge with patients and their families.