Association of Low to Moderate Alcohol Drinking With Cognitive Functions From Middle to Older Age Among US Adults

IMPORTANCE: Studies examining the association of low to moderate drinking with various cognitive functions have yielded mixed findings.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate whether associations exist between low to moderate alcohol drinking and cognitive function trajectories or rates of change in cognitive function from middle age to older age among US adults.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: A prospective cohort study of participants drawn from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative sample of US adults, with mean (SD) follow-up of 9.1 (3.1) years. In total, 19887 participants who had their cognitive functions measured in the HRS starting in 1996 through 2008 and who had participated in at least 3 biennial surveys were included. The data analysis was conducted from June to November 2019.

EXPOSURES: Alcohol consumption and aging.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Trajectories and annual rates of change for the cognitive domains of mental status, word recall, and vocabulary and for the total cognitive score, which was the sum of the mental status and word recall scores. Participants were clustered into 2 cognitive function trajectories for each cognition measure assessed based on their scores at baseline and through at least 3 biennial surveys: a consistently low trajectory (representing low cognitive scores throughout the study period) and a consistently high trajectory (representing high cognitive scores throughout the study period).

RESULTS: The mean (SD) age of 19887 participants was 61.8 (10.2) years, and the majority of the HRS participants were women (11943 [60.1%]) and of white race/ethnicity (16950 [85.2%]). Low to moderate drinking (<8 drinks per week for women and <15 drinks per week for men) was significantly associated with a consistently high cognitive function trajectory and a lower rate of cognitive decline. Compared with never drinkers, low to moderate drinkers were less likely to have a consistently low trajectory for total cognitive function (odds ratio [OR], 0.66; 95% CI, 0.59-0.74), mental status (OR, 0.71; 95% CI, 0.63-0.81), word recall (OR, 0.74; 95% CI, 0.69-0.80), and vocabulary (OR, 0.64; 95% CI, 0.56-0.74) (all P < .001). In addition, low to moderate drinking was associated with decreased annual rates of total cognitive function decline (beta coefficient, 0.04; 95% CI, 0.02-0.07; P = .002), mental status (beta coefficient, 0.02; 95% CI, 0.01-0.03; P = .002), word recall (beta coefficient, 0.02; 95% CI, 0.01-0.04; P = .01), and vocabulary (beta coefficient, 0.01; 95% CI, 0.00-0.03; P = .08). A significant racial/ethnic difference was observed for trajectories of mental status (P = .02 for interaction), in which low to moderate drinking was associated with lower odds of having a consistently low trajectory for white participants (OR, 0.65; 95% CI, 0.56-0.75) but not for black participants (OR, 1.02; 95% CI, 0.74-1.39). Finally, the dosage of alcohol consumed had a U-shaped association with all cognitive function domains for all participants, with an optimal dose of 10 to 14 drinks per week.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: These findings suggested that low to moderate alcohol drinking was associated with better global cognition scores, and these associations appeared stronger for white participants than for black participants. Studies examining the mechanisms underlying the association between alcohol drinking and cognition in middle-aged or older adults are needed.

Additional Info

  • Authors:

    Zhang, R. Shen, L.  Miles, T. Shen, Y. Cordero, J. Qi, Y. Liang, L. Li, C. 

  • Issue: JAMA Netw Open . 2020 Jun 1;3(6)
  • Published Date: 2020 Jun 1
  • More Information:

    For more information about this abstract, please contact 
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at the Deutsche Weinakademie GmbH

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