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Does Alcohol Raise the Risk of Getting Alzheimer’s Disease?

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The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease may not be understood yet, but doctors do know certain behaviors can increase a senior’s risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. If you have a senior loved one who is worried about developing Alzheimer’s disease, there are a few things you should know about how alcohol influences risks.

Heavy Alcohol Consumption Increases Dementia Risks

In 2018, The Lancet Public Health published an interesting study that looked at the link between dementia and alcohol. This study used five years of data across thousands of subjects. Researchers discovered that people with early-onset dementia were far more likely to have been hospitalized for alcohol overdoses in the past. Approximately 18 percent of all cases were among people who had alcohol abuse disorders. These results show there is a relationship between heavy alcohol use and dementia.

Early-onset dementia may happen with excessive alcohol consumption, but dementia also commonly occurs as a result of aging. Caring for a senior with dementia can be challenging for family caregivers. Luckily, there is dementia care Wellesley families can rely on. Professional dementia caregivers help seniors with dementia stay safe and comfortable at home by preventing wandering, providing cognitive stimulation, and assisting with household chores.

Alcohol Prevents the Brain from Clearing Away Amyloid Plaques

A 2018 study led by researchers from the University of Illinois discovered one of the main mechanisms that causes alcohol to increase Alzheimer’s risks. The study looked at the microglial cells responsible for removing amyloid plaques from the brain. In a healthy body, the microglial cells activate to clear away sticky clumps of protein before they damage brain cells. However, people who regularly drink a lot of alcohol end up with inflamed microglial cells that cannot function, which means the bodies of heavy drinkers might not be able to keep the brain as healthy as it should be.

Heavy Alcohol Consumption Further Harms the Brain

Drinking a lot of alcohol on a regular basis does more than just keep the brain from cleaning up amyloid proteins that develop. It can also lead to certain types of brain damage that make dementia worse. Those who drink heavily typically have elevated blood pressure because alcohol consumption puts so much stress on the body. High blood pressure can impair blood supply to the brain, so the brain ends up not getting enough oxygen and other nutrients. High blood pressure can cause enough damage to make dementia develop, even without the amyloid plaques that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Dementia and Alzheimer’s pose special challenges, both for seniors and their families. If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you might want to consider hiring professional home care. Families looking for top-rated Wellesley home care providers can reach out to Home Care Assistance. From respite care to specialized Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke, and Parkinson’s care, there are many ways we can make life easier for seniors and their loved ones.

What Type of Drinking Increases Dementia Risks?

So far, none of the researchers involved in the above studies have found a definite amount of alcohol they feel comfortable recommending. Small amounts of alcohol consumed regularly may provide some benefit for lowering blood pressure, but the researchers don’t know if the benefits outweigh the costs. Those who want to be on the safe side can avoid alcohol altogether, but in general, the research shows that the most dangerous type of drinking is either binge drinking or heavy drinking, which means people who want to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease need to avoid having more than four drinks over two hours or more than seven drinks per week.

Researchers aren’t sure if alcohol consumption raises the risk of getting Alzheimer’s, so if you’re concerned it might, be sure to talk to your loved one’s doctor and follow current research—or simply encourage your loved one to not drink alcohol. People with Alzheimer’s face a number of special challenges. If your senior loved one has Alzheimer’s and needs help managing daily tasks, reach out to Home Care Assistance, a leading provider of Alzheimer’s care. Wellesley Home Care Assistance provides reliable caregivers around the clock to help your loved one age in place safely and comfortably while living with Alzheimer’s disease. We’re here to help. Call one of our Care Managers today at (781) 239-0060.    

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