Effects of Alcohol Use on Cognition During Later Adulthood
Alcohol is one of the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world, yet there are conflicting findings related to its long-term effect on cognition. Some research has identified a U-shaped relationship between alcohol consumption and cognition, while negative relationships have been identified in other studies. Methodological issues, particularly the time at which alcohol consumption was measured relative to when cognition was measured, wide variability in definitions of "moderate" alcohol consumption, and selecting appropriate comparison groups, have made exploring the effects of alcohol on cognition during aging difficult. The current study examined the relationship between drinking at three separate time points (between the ages of 50 and 74) and cognition in older adulthood. Results revealed that the quantity of self-reported drinks over the three time points was a significant predictor of cognition in older adulthood (b=0.001; p<.001), although the effect sizes were very small and not meaningful. Subsequent analyses examined this relationship among heavy drinkers and binge drinkers compared to moderate drinkers and non-binge drinkers, but heavy and binge drinking were not significant predictors of cognition in older adulthood (all ps>0.05). Overall, the results suggest no that there is not a meaningful relationship between alcohol consumption and cognitive functioning in older adulthood in this sample. There were few consistent heavy drinkers (n=71), but a large number of consistent moderate drinkers (n=1,847), although even the moderate drinkers did not consume much alcohol (mean alcohol consumption = 15.3 drinks/month; median alcohol consumption = 5.0 drinks/month). This may have limited the ability to detect clinically meaningful differences. Future studies should rely on more standardized alcohol measures, large, diverse samples, and inclusion of cognitive measures assessing visuospatial abilities and executive functioning, in order to better explore the relationship of alcohol in the aging brain.