Send to

Choose Destination
Aging Ment Health. 2013;17(1):12-23. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2012.717254. Epub 2012 Aug 30.

Alcohol effects on cognitive change in middle-aged and older adults.

Author information

Department of Gerontology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA.



This study examines cognitive outcomes for alcohol drinking status over time, across cognitive ability and age groups.


Data (1998-2005) from n = 571 Seattle Longitudinal Study participants aged 45+years (middle-aged: 45-64, young-old: 65-75, old-old: 75+) were analyzed to examine the alcohol drinking status effect (e.g., abstinent, moderate (less than seven drinks/week), at-risk (more than eight drinks/week)) on cognitive ability (e.g., memory, reasoning, spatial, verbal number, speed abilities).


Findings indicated that alcohol drinking status was associated with change in verbal ability, spatial ability, and perceptual speed. Decline in verbal ability was seen among alcohol abstainers and moderate alcohol consumers, but at-risk drinkers displayed relative stability. At-risk old-old adults and middle-aged adults (regardless of drinking status), displayed relative stability in spatial ability. Decline in spatial ability was however present among young-old adults across drinking status, and among abstaining and moderate drinking old-old adults. At-risk drinkers showed the most positive spatial ability trajectory. A gender effect in perceptual speed was detected, with women who abstained from drinking displaying the most decline in perceptual speed compared with women that regularly consumed alcohol, and men displaying decline in perceptual speed across drinking status.


In this study, consuming alcohol is indicative of cognitive stability. This conclusion should be considered cautiously, due to study bias created from survivor effects, analyzing two time points, health/medication change status, and overrepresentation of higher socioeconomic status and white populations in this study. Future research needs to design studies that can make concrete recommendations about the relationship between drinking status and cognition.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Taylor & Francis Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center