A drink a day 'may keep dementia at bay'
ONE alcoholic drink a day could slow the progression of dementia in older people, researchers said yesterday.
A study in Italy involving 1,445 people found that 121 had early signs of dementia. But the researchers found those patients who drank one alcoholic drink a day - in most cases a glass of wine - developed dementia at a rate 85 per cent slower than people who never drank alcohol.
Drinking more than one drink a day, however, did not help to slow down dementia, according to the study published in the journal Neurology.
Mild cognitive impairment is the stage between normal ageing and dementia, with symptoms including mild memory or mental problems but no significant disability.
The latest study, by researchers from the University of Bari, suggests that the development of dementia could be slowed during this period.
The patients, aged 65 to 84, were part of the Italian Longitudinal Study on Ageing and were followed for three and a half years before the researchers saw a trend linked to drinking alcohol.
Dr Vincenzo Solfrizzi, of the university's department of geriatrics, said that while other studies had looked at alcohol consumption and cognitive impairment in the elderly, their research was the first to look at how drinking alcohol affected the rate of progression to dementia.
"The mechanism responsible for why low alcohol consumption appears to protect against the progression to dementia isn't known," the researcher said. "However, it is possible that the arrangement of blood vessels in the brain may play a role in why alcohol consumption appears to protect against dementia.
"This would support other observations that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may protect the brain from stroke and vascular dementia."
Alzheimer Scotland warned against people taking the research to mean they should drink more to protect themselves against dementia.
A spokeswoman said: "While we recognise the possible benefits of very moderate alcohol consumption in relation to dementia, we would be far happier to promote a generally healthy lifestyle of healthy eating, physical exercise, mental stimulation and social interaction.
"Healthy eating and physical exercise are part of maintaining general good health in later life," she said.
"There is also a very wide body of evidence which shows that mental stimulation and interaction is absolutely key in warding off dementia. These kinds of messages are better than saying it is as simple as having a glass of wine a day."
Alcohol campaign groups also warned against over-consumption. Jack Law, the chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "This study is interesting, and doctors agree that sticking to the recommended limits of two to three units per day for women and three to four units per day for men shouldn't pose any significant health risks.
"However, people need to remember that alcohol has the potential to cause severe harm to health, and continued excessive drinking can cause memory loss and alcohol-related brain damage."
Last week, the Alzheimer's Society said it was launching a study to investigate possible links between diet and Alzheimer's disease. They will analyse the effects of foods such as fruit juice, red wine and oily fish on the incidence of mental illness.
• UP TO 65,000 people in Scotland are thought to have dementia.
By 2031, it is estimated that the number of people affected will rise by 75 per cent to 101,650, as the elderly population increases.
Campaigners warn that health and social services could be overwhelmed by the vast numbers of people with dementia.
There have also been concerns in the last year that dementia patients could be denied drugs to slow down their progression, because of a move by NHS rationing watchdogs.
Alzheimer Scotland says that if dementia affected people in their twenties, rather than the elderly, they would not be left waiting for drugs.
The number of people under 65 with dementia in Scotland is thought to be fewer than 1,600.
Alzheimer Scotland has called for an additional 150 million to tackle the dementia epidemic.
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