Alcohol consumption in mild cognitive impairment and dementia: harmful or neuroprotective?

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2012 Dec;27(12):1218-38. doi: 10.1002/gps.3772. Epub 2012 Mar 7.


Objective: In several longitudinal studies, light-to-moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages has been proposed as being protective against the development of age-related changes in cognitive function, predementia syndromes, and cognitive decline of degenerative (Alzheimer's disease, AD) or vascular origin (vascular dementia). However, contrasting findings also exist.

Method: The English literature published in this area before September 2011 was evaluated, and information relating to the various factors that may impact upon the relationship between alcohol consumption and dementia or predementia syndromes is presented in the succeeding texts.

Results: Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption may be associated with a reduced risk of incident overall dementia and AD; however, protective benefits afforded to vascular dementia, cognitive decline, and predementia syndromes are less clear. The equivocal findings may relate to many of the studies being limited to cross-sectional designs, restrictions by age or gender, or incomplete ascertainment. Different outcomes, beverages, drinking patterns, and study follow-up periods or possible interactions with other lifestyle-related (e.g., smoking) or genetic factors (e.g., apolipoprotein E gene variation) may all contribute to the variability of findings.

Conclusion: Protective effects of moderate alcohol consumption against cognitive decline are suggested to be more likely in the absence of the AD-associated apolipoprotein E ε4 allele and where wine is the beverage. At present, there is no indication that light-to-moderate alcohol drinking would be harmful to cognition and dementia, and attempts to define what might be deemed beneficial levels of alcohol intake in terms of cognitive performance would be highly problematic and contentious.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Apolipoproteins E / genetics
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Dementia / etiology*
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Humans
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology
  • Risk Factors


  • Apolipoproteins E
  • Neuroprotective Agents