Consumption of large amounts of alcohol is known to have negative effects, but consumption in smaller amounts may be protective. The effect of alcohol may be greater in the elderly than in younger adults, particularly with regard to cognition. However, the drinking pattern that will provide optimal protection against dementia and cognitive decline in the elderly has not been systematically investigated.
The present paper is a critical review of research on the effect of alcohol on cognitive function and dementia in the elderly. Studies published from 1971 to 2011 related to alcohol and cognition in the elderly were reviewed using a PubMed search.
Alcohol may have both a neurotoxic and neuroprotective effect. Longitudinal and brain imaging studies in the elderly show that excessive alcohol consumption may increase the risk of cognitive dysfunction and dementia, but low to moderate alcohol intake may protect against cognitive decline and dementia and provide cardiovascular benefits.
Evidence suggesting that low to moderate alcohol consumption in the elderly protects against cognitive decline and dementia exists; however, because of varying methodology and a lack of standardized definitions, these findings should be interpreted with caution.
It is important to conduct more, well-designed studies to identify the alcohol drinking pattern that will optimally protect the elderly against cognitive decline and dementia.