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By Janice Lloyd, USA TODAY

Moderate drinking and binge drinking among older people increase the risk for cognitive decline and memory loss, according to two studies presented today at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2012 in Vancouver, Canada.

Adults ages 65 and older who reported binge drinking at least twice a month were 2½ times more likely to suffer cognitive and memory declines than similar-aged adults who don't binge-drink. In this study, binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks on one occasion.

"It's not just how much you drink but the pattern of your drinking," says lead author Iain Lang of the University of Exeter in England. "Older people need to be aware, if they do binge-drink, of the risks and they should change their behaviors."

Binge drinking appears to be a big problem in the USA. The findings follow a study in January by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that one in six adults in the USA are binge drinkers and those in the 65-plus age group binge-drink more often than any other age group. In that survey, binge drinking is defined as men having five or more drinks within a short period of time and women having four or more drinks.

Those most likely to binge-drink have incomes of more than $75,000 a year, according to the CDC.
The CDC recommends moderation, if you do drink. It describes moderate drinking as no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks for day for men.

Lang's eight-year study on binge drinking followed 5,075 U.S. adults ages 65 and older and assessed cognitive function and memory in a telephone survey. Among the findings: 4.3% of men and 0.5% of women reported drinking heavily twice a month or more; another 8.3 % of men and 1.5% of women reported doing so once a month or more.

Earlier studies have noted drinking alcohol in moderation, especially red wine, might decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia and premature death.

"The many dangers of misuse of alcohol, and some of the possible benefits, have been widely reported, and there needs to be clarification by the scientific community," says Bill Thies, chief scientific and medical officer for the Alzheimer's Association. "Certainly no one should start drinking in order to reduce Alzheimer's risk."

In another study reported at the conference, researchers found moderate alcohol consumption had no protective properties in the mental functions of older women. The study followed 1,306 women ages 65 and older for 20 years. Among the highlights:

•Women who changed from not drinking to drinking over the course of the study had a 200% increased risk of cognitive impairment compared with non-drinkers.

•Women who reported drinking more in the past than at the beginning of the study were at a 30% increased risk of developing cognitive impairment compared with non-drinkers.

•Moderate drinkers in the late phrase of the study were roughly 60% more likely to develop cognitive impairment compared with nondrinkers.

"Alcohol use in late life many not be beneficial in older women," says lead author Tina Hoang of The Veterans Health Research Institute in San Francisco. "It may be that the brains of older individuals are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol."

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