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Elderly Binge Drinkers Face Higher Risk of Cognitive Decline

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(VANCOUVER, British Columbia) -- Women have been told for years that a glass of wine a day could actually improve their health, because it's good for the heart and brain. But researchers in San Francisco warned Wednesday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Canada that elderly women who drink moderately could be at increased risk for decline in brain function.

The researchers said that adults older than 65 who reported heavy drinking at least twice each month more than doubled their likelihood to suffer loss of memory and brain function. Consuming four or more alcoholic beverages at a time was considered in the study as heavy binge drinking.

So how much alcohol should a woman be drinking?
 
"As always, the key is moderation or one drink a day for women be it wine, beer or spirit. It lowers risk of heart disease and stroke.  And it helps protect your brain from mental decline," said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical editor.

But, Dr. Besser cautions, "women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant shouldn't drink. And women at high risk for breast cancer should also think twice. Your risk goes up 10 percent if you have a daily drink. But otherwise, drink up -- a little."

Tina Hoang, the study's lead author and clinical research coordinator at the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center explained why alcohol consumption in late-life may not be beneficial for cognitive function in older women.

"It may be that the brains of oldest old adults are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, but it is also possible that factors associated with changing alcohol use related to coping or loss could be involved," Hoang said. "Clinicians should carefully assess their older patients for both how much they drink and any changes in patterns of alcohol use."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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