Risky drinking and cognitive impairment in community residents aged 50 and over

Rahul Rao*, Byron Creese, Dag Aarsland, Chris Kalafatis, Zunera Khan, Anne Corbett, Clive Ballard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: Alcohol misuse is known to be a risk factor for dementia. This study aimed to explore the association between risky drinking and cognitive impairment in a cohort study of middle aged and older people at risk of dementia. Method: The sample comprised 15,582 people aged 50 and over drawn from the PROTECT study. Risky drinking was defined according to a score of 4 or above on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). Cognitive function was assessed on visual episodic memory, spatial working memory, verbal working memory and verbal reasoning. Results: Risky drinkers at baseline were more likely to be younger, male, white British, married, of higher educational status, current or past tobacco smokers and to have moderate to severe depression than non-risky drinkers. Risky drinkers were also more likely to be impaired on self-reported instrumental activities of daily living and subjective cognitive decline. At baseline, risky drinkers were less likely than non-risky drinkers to show impairment on verbal reasoning and spatial working memory but not on visual episodic memory or verbal working memory. Risky drinking at baseline predicted decline in cognitive function on visual episodic memory, verbal reasoning and spatial working memory at 2 year follow-up, but only verbal working memory and spatial working memory remained significant outcomes after controlling for possible confounders. Conclusion: Although of small effect size, the association between risky drinking and impairment on measures of working memory and visuospatial function warrants further examination; particularly given the possibility of partial reversibility in alcohol related cognitive impairment.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAging and Mental Health
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Alcohol
  • cognitive function
  • dementia
  • older adults


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