Alcohol among biggest risk factors of early-onset dementia: Canadian study

"As a geriatric psychiatrist, I frequently see the effects of alcohol use disorder on dementia, when unfortunately alcohol treatment interventions may be too late to improve cognition", said Dr. Bruce Pollock, vice president of research at CAMH.

The study results suggest that those with a history of alcohol use disorders had a threefold increased risk for dementia and over half of those with early-onset dementia had a history of drinking problems. Thirty-eight percent of the cases were directly related to chronic heavy alcohol consumption and 18 percent had an additional diagnosis of alcohol use disorders.

It showed that more than one third (38%) of 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia were directly alcohol-related.

The study also found that alcohol use disorders were associated with all other independent risk factors for dementia onset, such as tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, lower education, depression, and hearing loss, among modifiable risk factors.

Researchers found that being hospitalised with alcohol dependence or a health issue caused by continuous heavy drinking was a strong risk factor for the progressive brain condition, especially in the under-65s.

Killian Welch from the University of Edinburgh said in a statement that, "This large study provides further evidence that heavy drinking is associated with a greatly elevated risk of cognitive impairment, and that this can occur at a relatively young age. Therefore, it is somewhat unsurprising that early-onset dementia identifies a cluster of men with alcohol use disorders".

The paper is the first major study to look at the link between alcohol and dementia, the Lancet Public Health journal reports.

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It included all patients over 20 discharged with alcohol-related brain damage, vascular dementia or other forms of brain-wasting diseases like Alzheimer's. "However, both types of research are subject to the usual limitations of observational studies: they cannot definitely establish cause and effect, and any observed relationships are nearly certainly confounded by other factors, not all of which can be easily measured".

Genetics remains the main cause of dementia in the overwhelming majority of cases, but experts are increasingly aware that lifestyle choices can raise the risk.

Research suggests multiple ways heavy alcohol use can lead to dementia.

There are several types of dementia - a decline in mental ability that impacts daily life - but Alzheimer's is the most common cause.

"But people who are drinking moderate amounts of alcohol shouldn't cut back because of this study".

A related question is the role national alcohol consumption plays, they added, noting that France consumes 12.2 L per person per year, much higher than Italy (6.7 L per person per year) and other countries. Over six per cent of men and 1.5 per cent of women discharged from hospital had alcohol use disorders, compared to 16.5 per cent of men and four per cent of women with dementia. "The study just shows that you are more likely to be in hospital with a diagnosis of dementia if you drink more heavily".

Ballard and Lang disclosed relevant relationships with Acadia Pharmaceuticals, Lundbeck, Roche, Otusaka, Novartis, Eli Lilly, and Pfizer.


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