The results of a new study point to a correlation between regular but moderate drinking in older adults, and a reduced risk of cognitive impairments. This research was based on a cohort study of middle-class adults in the United States.

According to data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for around 88,000 deaths each year in the United States. However, the 2015 scientific report of the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that moderate drinking can have several health benefits, including a decreased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

A new study led by scientists from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine in La Jolla has now found a correlation between moderate drinking on a regular basis and prolonged cognitive health, as well as longevity.

Senior study author Dr. Linda McEvoy explains that their research is, as far as they are aware, the first of its kind; it specifically takes into account the frequency of alcohol intake in an older population.

"This study is unique because we considered men and women's cognitive health at late age and found that alcohol consumption is not only associated with reduced mortality, but with greater chances of remaining cognitively healthy into older age," she says.

Dr. McEvoy and her colleagues have published their findings in the current issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

Data collected from uniform cohort

The researchers worked with data collected from 1,344 adults recruited in the Rancho Bernardo Study, a prospective cohort study of residents from a middle-class Californian community. Of the participants selected for the current research, 728 were women and 616 were men.

It should also be noted that the cohort the researchers worked with was relatively uniform; the participants were almost all white (99.4 percent) and middle- or upper-middle class.

The study was conducted over a period of 29 years, until December 2013. The participants' cognitive health was assessed at baseline, and then again once every 4 years.

To be eligible, participants were required to have "the potential to reach age 85 during the follow-up period." Those who did reach this age during the study had to have their cognitive health status reassessed within 2 years from their 85th birthday.

Moderate drinkers cognitively healthy

All the participants were asked to provide information about their alcohol consumption patterns through a standardized questionnaire. Drinking was labeled as "moderate," "heavy," or "excessive" according to NIAAA guidelines adjusted for age and biological sex.

Moderate alcohol consumption added up to, at most, one standard drink per day for women of all ages and men aged 65 and older, or up to two drinks per day for men under 65. It was defined as "heavy" in the case of up to three drinks per day for men aged 65 and older and women of all ages, or up to four drinks per day for men under 65.

Finally, "excessive" consumption counted more than three drinks per day for men aged 65 and older and women of all ages, or more than four drinks per day for men under 65.

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