Problem drinking during middle age can lead to severe memory problems later in life, researchers reveal.
In the study, having a history of problem drinking during the middle life doubled the risk of memory impairment at old age.
Nearly 6,542 people, born between 1931 and 1941, took part in the study. History of alcohol use disorders (AUD) was determined through a CAGE (Cut down, Annoyed, Guilty, Eye-opener) questionnaire.
Participants answered a few questions: whether they had ever felt reducing alcohol consumption, any incident where they felt annoyed by other people's criticism on their drinking habit, had their drinking made them guilty and whether they had taken drinks shortly after getting up in the morning to steady the nerves or to kill the hangover.
Participants first completed the assessment in 1992 and reported their health status every alternative year between 1996 and 2010.
At the end, researchers found a direct link between problem drinking and memory loss in old age.
"We know that alcohol is bad for the brain in general, but it's not just how much you drink but how it affects you," lead researcher, Dr Iain Lang, from the University of Exeter Medical School, told the BBC. "The amount that you drink is important - what is also important is if you experience any problems in your drinking or if other people tell you have a problem."
Memory problems at old age have long been linked to an increased risk of brain disorders like dementia, a syndrome related to the brain that leads to memory loss, difficulty in communicating, thinking, understanding, judgment, planning and the ability to perform daily routines. Nearly 35.6 million people around the world are estimated to be affected by dementia, and nearly 7.7 million new cases are reported every year.
Experts found that the findings are highly promising in fighting brain disorders. They urged people to follow a healthy lifestyle to reduce dementia risk. "This small study shows that people who admitted to alcohol abuse at some point in their lives were twice as likely to have severe memory problems, and as the research relied on self-reporting that number may be even higher," Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer's Society, said in a news release. "This isn't to say that people need to abstain from alcohol altogether. As well as eating a healthy diet, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, the odd glass of red wine could even help reduce your risk of developing dementia."
The study has been published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.