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Alcohol Alcohol. 2005 Mar-Apr;40(2):112-7. Epub 2004 Dec 6.

Alcohol consumption and midlife cognitive change in the British 1946 birth cohort study.

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MRC National Survey of Health and Development, University College London, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, London WC1E 6BT, UK.



Cross-sectional studies suggest that alcohol consumption benefits cognitive function. However, more longitudinal studies are required to confirm that alcohol has an effect on cognitive change and to rule out the possibility that those of higher ability engage in a lifestyle that protects against cognitive decline.


We investigated the association between self-reported alcohol consumption and change in memory, speed and concentration in midlife, in 903 men and 861 women enrolled in the MRC National Survey of Health and Development (the British 1946 birth cohort).


After controlling for educational attainment, occupational social class and general cognitive ability, it was found that alcohol consumption was associated with a slower memory decline from 43 to 53 years in men, but a more rapid decline in visual search speed for the same interval in women. These effects were not explained by a further control for health status (body water weight, smoking, exercise, cardio-respiratory disease and affective state).


Our data suggest that alcohol consumption is associated with a slower memory decline. However, the negative association between alcohol and psychomotor function in women is a potential cause for concern.

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