Heavy drinking is a major risk factor for all types of dementia, especially early-onset dementia, according to a study published on Wednesday. Of 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia observed in France between 2008 and 2013, more than half were alcohol-related: 39% of these patients had alcohol-induced brain damage and for 18% of them, dementia was linked to heavy alcohol consumption, according to the study, based on data from French hospitals and published in the Lancet Public Health Magazine.
Moreover, heavy drinking was linked to a thrice greater risk of dementia of all types, noted the study, conducted by the Transitional Health Network, THEN, based in Paris, and the French public service institution, Inserm.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 47 million people worldwide are living with dementia, and 60%-70% of them suffer from Alzheimer’s. Early onset dementia is used to describe those who develop the condition before the age of 65 years.
“Heavy drinking should be recognized as a major risk factor for all types of dementia,” says one of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Michel Schwarzinger. He advocates early detection of heavy drinking. “The link between dementia and alcohol needs additional research, but it probably stems from the fact that alcohol causes permanent damage to the brain,” he says.
Moreover, heavy drinking is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems, factors that can increase the risk of vascular dementia, which occurs after heart disease or stroke.
The study provides new data suggesting that alcohol-related disorders are strongly linked to a risk of dementia, commented independent expert Dr. David Llewellyn, quoted by the Science Media Centre. However, reducing heavy drinking does not necessary reduce the risk of dementia or delay its onset, he warned, stressing that this type of study does not prove the existence of a causal link.
The study was based on data from the Programme for Medicalization of the Information Systems of French Hospitals, PMSI, and covers more than 1.1 million people diagnosed with some type of dementia between 2008 and 2013.
Over the same period, some 945,000 persons were diagnosed with alcohol-related disorders.