A 30-year study by the University of California, San Diego has concluded that over-65s who indulge in up to three alcoholic drinks a day can look forward to a happy and healthy retirement.
In fact, they said, moderate to heavy drinkers are more likely to live to the age of 85 without dementia or other cognitive impairments than non-drinkers.
The study, which tracked more than 1,000 middle class white men and women in California, builds on a swell of recent research linking alcohol intake to longevity.
However, the researchers warned excessive alcohol intake is known to cause alcohol-related dementia.
‘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,’ said lead author Dr Linda McEvoy.
The data derive from a relatively homogenous population in one specific region of San Diego County: Rancho Bernardo, a white-collar, middle-to-upper-middle-class suburb.
The researchers tracked 1,344 older adults, including 728 women and 616 men, from 1984 to 2013.
Ninety-nine percent of them were white with at least some college education.
Cognitive health was assessed every four years over the course of the 29-year study, using a standard dementia screening test known as the Mini Mental State Examination.
The researchers found that people who drank ‘moderate to heavy’ amounts of alcohol five to seven days a week were doubly likely to be cognitively healthy than non-drinkers.
The study defined moderate, heavy and excessive drinking using gender and age-specific guidelines from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Moderate drinking is defined as consuming up to one alcoholic beverage a day for adult women of any age and men aged 65 and older. For men age over 65, that constitutes drinking up to two drinks a day.
Heavy drinking is defined as drinking up to three alcoholic beverages per day for women of any adult age and for men age 65 and older. For men under 65, that would be four drinks a day.
Drinking more than four drinks a day is classed as excessive.
The researchers warned that the study does not suggest drinking is responsible for increased longevity and cognitive health.
They make the point that people who drink moderate amounts of wine on a regular basis tend to have higher incomes and education levels. They also tend to smoke less and have better access to health care.
The UC San Diego School of Medicine research team adjusted the statistical analyses to remove confounding variables, such as smoking or obesity.
‘It is important to point out that there were very few individuals in our study who drank to excess, so our study does not show how excessive or binge-type drinking may affect longevity and cognitive health in aging,’ Dr McEvoy warned.
Lead author Erin Richard, a graduate student, added: ‘This study shows that moderate drinking may be part of a healthy lifestyle to maintain cognitive fitness in aging.
‘However, it is not a recommendation for everyone to drink.
‘Some people have health problems that are made worse by alcohol, and others cannot limit their drinking to only a glass or two per day. For these people, drinking can have negative consequences.’
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