Understanding the relationship between memory function and lifestyle offers great opportunities for promoting beneficial lifestyle choices to foster healthy cognitive aging and for the development of intervention programs for older adults. We studied a cohort of older adults (age 65 and older) enrolled in the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam, an ongoing prospective population-based research project. A total of 1,966 men and women participated in an episodic memory test every 3 years over a period of 14 years. Lifestyle habits were repeatedly assessed using self-report measures. Physical activity, light-to-moderate alcohol consumption, difficulties staying asleep, and social engagement were associated with better memory function over the course of 14 years. In contrast, smoking and long sleep duration were associated with worse memory function. These findings suggest that certain lifestyle factors can have long-term protective or harmful effects on memory function in aging individuals.

Published in General Health

Introduction: Adolescence and young adulthood are periods of continued biological and psychosocial maturation. Thus, there may be deleterious effects of consuming large quantities of alcohol on neural development and associated cognition during this time. The purpose of this mini review is to highlight neuroimaging research that has specifically examined the effects of binge and heavy drinking on adolescent and young adult brain structure and function.

Methods: We review cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of young binge and heavy drinkers that have examined brain structure (e.g., gray and white matter volume, cortical thickness, white matter microstructure) and investigated brain response using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Results: Binge and heavy-drinking adolescents and young adults have systematically thinner and lower volume in prefrontal cortex and cerebellar regions, and attenuated white matter development. They also show elevated brain activity in fronto-parietal regions during working memory, verbal learning, and inhibitory control tasks. In response to alcohol cues, relative to controls or light-drinking individuals, binge and heavy drinkers show increased neural response mainly in mesocorticolimbic regions, including the striatum, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), hippocampus, and amygdala. Mixed findings are present in risky decision-making tasks, which could be due to large variation in task design and analysis.

Conclusions: These findings suggest altered neural structure and activity in binge and heavy-drinking youth may be related to the neurotoxic effects of consuming alcohol in large quantities during a highly plastic neurodevelopmental period, which could result in neural reorganization, and increased risk for developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Published in Drinking Patterns

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by dense deposition of amyloid-beta (Abeta) protein in the brain, failure of the memory and dementia. At present, there is no cure for AD and current treatments only provide a temporary reduction of symptoms. Thus, there is a need for effective preventive/curative strategic approaches. Accordingly, epidemiological studies have reported a reduction in the prevalence of AD in individuals ingesting low amounts of alcohol, while a moderate consumption of ethanol may protect against Abeta. These data are conflicting with other observations that assigned detrimental effects of heavy alcohol use on brain function, which are apparently similar to those observed in AD. These discrepancies questioned whether or not alcohol is a protective agent against the development of AD, whether the probable protective effects are influenced by the quantity and/or frequency of drinking. These issues are addressed in this review with the aim to suggest the real risk of alcohol for developing or preventing AD.

Published in Dementia

BACKGROUND: Evidence suggests that moderate alcohol consumption may protect against cognitive decline and dementia. However, uncertainty remains over the patterns of drinking that are most beneficial.

OBJECTIVE: To examine associations between amount and frequency of alcohol consumption with multiple domains of cognitive function in a well-characterized cohort of older community-dwelling adults in southern California.

DESIGN: Observational, cross-sectional cohort study.

SETTING: A research visit between 1988-1992 in Rancho Bernardo, California.

PARTICIPANTS: 1624 participants of the Rancho Bernardo Study (mean age +/- SD = 73.2 +/- 9.3 years). Measurements: Participants completed a neuropsychological test battery, self-administered questionnaires on alcohol consumption and lifestyle, and a clinical health evaluation. We classified participants according to average amount of alcohol intake into never, former, moderate, heavy and excessive drinkers, and according to frequency of alcohol intake, into non-drinkers, rare, infrequent, frequent and daily drinkers. We examined the association between alcohol intake and cognitive function, controlling for age, sex, education, exercise, smoking, waist-hip ratio, hypertension and self-assessed health.

RESULTS: Amount and frequency of alcohol intake were significantly associated with cognitive function, even after controlling for potentially related health and lifestyle variables. Global and executive function showed positive linear associations with amount and frequency of alcohol intake, whereas visual memory showed an inverted U-shaped association with alcohol intake, with better performance for moderate and infrequent drinkers than for non-drinkers, excessive drinkers or daily drinkers.

CONCLUSIONS: In several cognitive domains, moderate, regular alcohol intake was associated with better cognitive function relative to not drinking or drinking less frequently. This suggests that beneficial cognitive effects of alcohol intake may be achieved with low levels of drinking that are unlikely to be associated with adverse effects in an aging population.

Published in Dementia
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