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Developing This Drinking Habit May Be a Sign of Dementia, Says New Study

It’s especially prevalent after the age of 40.
FACT CHECKED BY Kristen Warfield

How much a person drinks may differ depending on the occasion or even their mood. That amount can also change throughout their life, with some people perhaps drinking more during their college years and less as they age.

At the same time, a new study has found that if someone begins to drink a problematic amount of alcohol when they're older, it might be a sign of dementia.

In the study, which was published by the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the University of California San Francisco took a look at 1,518 patients who had been diagnosed with a neurological issue such as Alzheimer's-type dementia, semantic variant primary progressive aphasia, or behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia.

The researchers found that while only 1.7% of older adults tend to deal with alcohol issues of this sort, 2.2% of the patients were dealing with what is deemed late-onset alcohol abuse—an unhealthy amount of drinking after the age of 40. This led the researchers to make a connection between alcohol abuse and certain neurological issues.

Men cheers with glasses of a whiskey soda alcohol cocktail drink
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"What we found is that alcohol abuse may be the first sign of an underlying neurological condition when it presents late in life," Georges Naasan, MD, Associate Professor of Neurology, and Medical Director for the Division of Behavioral Neurology and Neuropsychiatry, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who was the senior author of the study explained, according to Newswise. Dr. Naasan added, "While it is important to identify social factors that may lead to alcohol abuse, such as retirement, loneliness, or loss of income/loved ones/housing, our data should implore health care workers to avoid systematically attributing alcohol abuse to these aspects."

The findings of this study were "certainly interesting," says Dana Ellis Hunnes PhD, MPH, RD, a senior dietitian at UCLA medical center and assistant professor at UCLA Fielding school of public health.

"Does the frontal temporal lobe dementia compel individuals to drink more alcohol?" she asks. "Or is it a backwards relationship where are the frontal temporal lobe dementia is it encouraging individuals to drink more?"

Hunnes also explains that "when we drink alcohol, we deplete our body of B-vitamins which are associated with neurological dysfunction if we become too deficient. For example B1–thiamine deficiency, and B12 deficiency are both associated with neurological disorders."

As for how to tell if someone is abusing alcohol, Hunnes says "there may be behavioral signs and changes, mood disorders, memory disorders, weight changes, changes in skin color or brightness, just a person's overall demeanor."

To find out more about the connection between drinking and your brain, be sure to read One Side Effect Alcohol Has on Brain Health, New Study Says.

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more