Astonishingly, senior citiezens (ages 65 and older—not college students or 20-something—binge drink most frequently, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more servings of alcohol on one occasion. That kind of drinking isn’t healthy for anyone…but for seniors, it’s particularly risky.
Reason: Binge drinking can greatly increase the risk for cognitive decline, recent research reveals—and there’s a proven link between cognitive decline and dementia.
The brain study looked at American men and women age 65 and older. For eight years, participants reported their drinking patterns. Also, at the start and end of the study period, they took standardized tests (such as doing arithmetic and recalling lists of common words) to assess their cognitive function, including memory.
Then researchers analyzed the data to identify the 10% of people who experienced the worst decline in cognition…and the 10% who suffered the worst decline in memory.
Findings: Compared with seniors who did not binge drink…
- Those who reported binge drinking at least twice a month were 2.5 times more likely to be in the groups that experienced the worst declines in cognitive function and/or in memory.
- Even participants who reported bingeing only once a month or more were 62% more likely to be among those who had the worst cognitive decline…and 27% more likely to be among those who had the worst memory decline.
Gender bender: Frequent bingeing was mostly a “guy thing”— 4.3% of men in the study reported binge drinking twice a month or more, while 8.3% did so at least once a month. Women weren’t entirely immune, though—0.5% binged twice or more per month and 1.5% did so at least monthly. And the damaging effects of binge drinking on cognition and memory were about the same for both genders.
SIZE DOES MATTER
It can be tricky to gauge how much alcohol you’re actually consuming on any given occasion—in part because today’s beverage glasses tend to be oversized. For instance, you might think that you had “just two glasses of wine” with dinner. But if your goblet held 10 ounces—rather than the standard five ounces—you really drank the equivalent of four glasses. In other words, you had a binge.
Reality check: The standard US definition of one drink is 12 ounces of beer…eight to nine ounces of malt liquor…five ounces of table wine…three to four ounces of fortified wine, such as sherry or port…two to three ounces of cordial, liqueur or aperitif…or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor or brandy. Recognize, too, that a single mixed drink may contain up to three times the amount of alcohol in a single serving of a plain drink, depending on what spirits are combined in the recipe.
Moderate drinking means no more than two drinks per day for men or one drink per day for women. But don’t fool yourself into believing that it’s OK to “save up” some of those drinks and consume them all at once. Having four drinks over the course of four days is fine for many adults—but abstaining for three days and then having four drinks on the fourth day is most definitely not fine.
Best: If you’re having trouble limiting your alcohol intake—even if you drink only occasionally—confide in your doctor. With help, you can overcome binge drinking…and safeguard your memory and your mind.