Objective: To examine the association between alcohol consumption in midlife and subsequent cognitive decline.
Methods: Data are from 5,054 men and 2,099 women from the Whitehall II cohort study with a mean age of 56 years (range 44-69 years) at first cognitive assessment. Alcohol consumption was assessed 3 times in the 10 years preceding the first cognitive assessment (1997-1999). Cognitive tests were repeated in 2002-2004 and 2007-2009. The cognitive test battery included 4 tests assessing memory and executive function; a global cognitive score summarized performances across these tests. Linear mixed models were used to assess the association between alcohol consumption and cognitive decline, expressed as z scores (mean = 0, SD = 1).
Results: In men, there were no differences in cognitive decline among alcohol abstainers, quitters, and light or moderate alcohol drinkers (<20 g/d). However, alcohol consumption ≥36 g/d was associated with faster decline in all cognitive domains compared with consumption between 0.1 and 19.9 g/d: mean difference (95% confidence interval) in 10-year decline in the global cognitive score = -0.10 (-0.16, -0.04), executive function = -0.06 (-0.12, 0.00), and memory = -0.16 (-0.26, -0.05). In women, compared with those drinking 0.1 to 9.9 g/d of alcohol, 10-year abstainers showed faster decline in the global cognitive score (-0.21 [-0.37, -0.04]) and executive function (-0.17 [-0.32, -0.01]).
Conclusions: Excessive alcohol consumption in men (≥36 g/d) was associated with faster cognitive decline compared with light to moderate alcohol consumption.