Boozy boomers given dementia warning ahead of Christmas

As we head into the Christmas period, many of us will be unwinding from a stressful year with family and friends, and a few drinks. But dementia experts are warning older Australians that overindulging could leave you with more than just a hangover.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales’ Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHBA) are using this year’s festive season to launch Rethink My Drink, a world first online study focusing on Australians aged 60-75.

The study aims to log participants’ drinking levels over a four-week period by having them complete a series of assessments on their alcohol use, thinking and memory abilities, alcohol-related harms and their overall quality of life.

Read: How to relax without alcohol

CHBA scientists say low levels of alcohol use – between one and seven standard drinks per week – are associated with small but significant changes in the brains of older adults, with heavy drinkers three times more likely to develop dementia.

One study even identified heavy drinking as the single most dangerous risk factor for dementia when compared with other controllable lifestyle risk factors.

The researchers hope to determine whether a brief alcohol intervention adapted for older adults can slow cognitive decline.

“Many older adults do not realise that they are exceeding risky drinking guidelines,” says Dr Louise Mewton, the study’s lead investigator.

Read: Being overweight can worsen the liver damage caused by alcohol

“It’s critical for Australians over 60 to be aware that heavy alcohol use is the strongest modifiable risk factor for dementia in comparison to such things as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes,” says Dr Mewton.

“This means people who consume alcohol regularly have a genuine chance of preventing dementia if proper action is taken.”

Dementia is one of the leading causes of chronic disability in Australia. It is the second leading cause of death overall and the leading cause of death among women. By 2050, it is estimated that the total number of people living with dementia will rise to well over one million people.

At the same time, problem drinking among older Australians is also on the rise. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), people aged 50 and over are more likely than younger people to drink to excessive levels, with an average of around 10 per cent of over 50s drinking daily.

Read: Prince Harry paves the way for others to tackle problems with alcohol

“Binge drinking is cultural – it doesn’t happen in all societies that consume alcohol,” says Dr Mewton.

“Given alcohol use and related harms are increasing in older adults, there is a critical need for brief alcohol intervention programs to support this group.

“Before the festive season begins is the perfect time to arm yourself with the tools you need to start a healthy relationship with alcohol.”

The study is currently accepting applicants for participation, so if you or someone you know might be interested, go to

Could you or a loved one benefit from this study? What steps should we be taking to reduce problem drinking among older Australians? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Brad Lockyer