Moderate-Heavy Alcohol Consumption Lifestyle in Older Adults Is Associated with Altered Central Executive Network Community Structure during Cognitive Task

PLoS One. 2016 Aug 5;11(8):e0160214. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0160214. eCollection 2016.


Older adults today consume more alcohol than previous generations, the majority being social drinkers. The effects of heavy alcohol use on brain functioning closely resemble age-related changes, but it is not known if moderate-heavy alcohol consumption intensifies brain aging. Whether a lifestyle of moderate-heavy alcohol use in older adults increased age-related brain changes was examined. Forty-one older adults (65-80 years) that consumed light (< 2 drinks/week and ≥ 1 drink/month, n = 20) or moderate-heavy (7-21 drinks/week, non-bingers, n = 21) amounts of alcohol were enrolled. Twenty-two young adults (24-35 years) were also enrolled (light, n = 11 and moderate-heavy, n = 11). Functional brain networks based on magnetic resonance imaging data were generated for resting state and during a working memory task. Whole-brain, Central Executive Network (CEN), and Default Mode Network (DMN) connectivity were assessed in light and moderate-heavy alcohol consuming older adults with comparisons to young adults. The older adults had significantly lower whole brain connectivity (global efficiency) and lower regional connectivity (community structure) in the CEN during task and in the DMN at rest. Moderate-heavy older drinkers did not exhibit whole brain connectivity differences compared to the low drinkers. However, decreased CEN connectivity was observed during the task. There were no differences in the DMN connectivity between drinking groups. Taken together, a lifestyle including moderate-heavy alcohol consumption may be associated with further decreases in brain network connectivity within task-related networks in older adults. Further research is required to determine if this decrease is compensatory or an early sign of decline.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects
  • Nerve Net
  • Rest