Booze and boomers are a bad mix - with even low levels of alcohol use - between one and seven standard drinks per week - associated with small but significant changes in the brains of older adults.
But older heavy-drinkers are playing Russian roulette with their brains, being three times more likely to develop dementia.
So with Christmas, with its culturally accepted increase in our drinking habits, on the horizon, UNSW Sydney's Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) has launched Rethink My Drink, a world-first online study designed to help Australians aged 60 - 75 years reconsider their relationship with alcohol, reduce their intake and help prevent dementia.
The researchers would like to hear from older Aussies who are concerned about their drinking habits, to take part in the study, which will evaluate whether an online program is effective in helping people make healthier decisions about their alcohol consumption and ultimately improve their quality of life.
Recent evidence indicates that one in five Australians over 60 exceeds official guidelines of no more than two drinks per day, putting themselves at risk of long term harm - higher than any other age group.
"Many older adults do not realise that they are exceeding risky drinking guidelines," said Dr Louise Mewton, Scientia Fellow and lead investigator of the study.
"It's critical for Australians over 60 to be aware that heavy alcohol use is the strongest modifiable risk factor for dementia in comparison to such things as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. This means people who consume alcohol regularly have a genuine chance of preventing dementia if proper action is taken."
Dementia is one of the leading causes of chronic disability in Australia and the second leading cause of death overall. It is the leading cause of death amongst women. By the middle of the century, it is predicted that the number of people living with a diagnosis of dementia will increase from 472,000 to well over one million people.
Currently, more than 1.6 million Australians are estimated to be involved in the care of a person with dementia.
"Binge drinking is cultural - it doesn't happen in all societies that consume alcohol," said Dr Mewton.
"Given alcohol use and related harms are increasing in older adults, there is a critical need for brief alcohol intervention programs to support this group. Before the festive season begins is the perfect time to arm yourself with the tools you need to start a healthy relationship with alcohol."
The world-first study aims to determine whether an online alcohol brief intervention adapted for older adults can slow cognitive decline, while at the same time reduce alcohol consumption in older risky drinkers.
It's critical for Australians over 60 to be aware that heavy alcohol use is the strongest modifiable risk factor for dementia in comparison to such things as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. This means people who consume alcohol regularly have a genuine chance of preventing dementia if proper action is taken.- Dr Louise Mewton
Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing Co-Directors, Scientia Professors Perminder Sachdev and Henry Brodaty, said "Excessive alcohol use by older Australians is an under-recognised problem, and its harm is not fully appreciated. This study is a great first step in demonstrating that something can be done about it, and it may well contribute to the prevention of dementia in a large number of people."
Who can participate?
The study might be a good fit for you if:
- You are aged 60-75 years
- You regularly consume alcohol
- You have access to a computer and the internet
- You are based in Australia
If you would like to participate in the study, visit www.unswalcoholstudy.org.au