Heavy drinking causes most cases of early dementia, scientists find

by Joy Montgomery February 22, 2018, 1:06
Heavy drinking causes most cases of early dementia, scientists find

The findings indicate that heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are the most important risk factors for dementia, and especially important for those types of dementia which start before age 65, and which lead to premature deaths.

The new study is the largest of its kind, looking at over a million people with dementia admitted to hospital in France between 2008 and 2013.

Of all the preventable risk factors associated with dementia - especially early onset dementia - alcohol use disorders proved to be the most important, says a recent study from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in France.

Alcohol use disorders refer to the "chronic harmful use of alcohol or alcohol dependence", according to the study.

The study identified 57,353 people who had cases of early-onset dementia (before age 65).

One in 20 of those had early-onset.

"If all these measures are implemented widely, they could not only reduce dementia incidence or delay dementia onset, but also reduce all alcohol-attributable morbidity and mortality", the researchers wrote.

"Given the strength of the association, what is the most surprising to me is that alcohol-use disorders had received so little interest in dementia research and public health policies", Schwarzinger said.

"There's a tradeoff between size and precision of the variables", he said.

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"People shouldn't be under the impression that only drinking to the point of hospitalisation carries a risk". "It's very unusual for people with dementia, at least in the milder stages, to be hospitalized", he added.

"The link between dementia and alcohol use disorders.is likely a result of alcohol leading to permanent structural and functional brain damage", said lead author Michael Schwarzinger, a scientist at the Translational Health Economics Network in Paris.

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.

The findings come after researchers warned last month that heavy drinking had become one of the biggest causes of severe illness among the middle-aged.

But the advice is not straightforward because studies have also found that even in moderation, drinking alcohol could increase the risk of dementia.

To pinpoint the direct link between heavy alcohol drinking to dementia, the researchers excluded patients with other neurological disorders such as Parkinson's and Huntington's, which can both lead to dementia.

Heavy drinking could increase dementia risk and it is also associated with other independent risk factors for dementia such as high blood pressure, depression, hearing loss, tobacco smoking, and lower education.

In the study there was a significant gender split in terms of early-onset dementia.While the overall majority of dementia patients were women, nearly two-thirds of all early-onset dementia patients (64.9%) were men. Of those patients, 16.5% of the men and 4% of the women had alcohol use disorders, which CNN reports is about twice the rate of those without dementia. "There could be a gender effect on who goes to the hospital with dementia".

What is alcohol use disorder?

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