Over the last several years, I have watched my mother’s memory come and go, lapse and return. She has had an MRI of her brain and does not have Alzheimer’s. As a matter of fact, her more-than-competent doctor has described her brain as “robust” for her age.
So, why then, at the age of 76, does my mother call me looking for my father when he’s been deceased for nearly four years? And why can’t she remember the names of her very close relatives? Although my mother is sober now, it seems that her on-and-off-again loss of memory is a result of a period of heavy drinking within the past ten years.
A new study conducted in Brazil focused specifically on cognitive problems caused by heavy alcohol use among 1,145 people who were 60 years old or older. The study found that 8.2 percent of the 419 men and 726 women studied were heavy drinkers, or drinking at levels that are considered high risk. (For women, heavy drinking is four drinks or more during a day or more than seven drinks a week.)
One of the more surprising findings of the study was that heavy drinking affects the cognitive function of women more than men. “The effects of heavy alcohol use on memory and other cognitive functions were more evident in women,” said Marcos Antonio Lopes, the author of the study. “Our findings suggest that alcohol use does not have a linear relationship with cognitive decline.”
In other words, women who continue to drink heavily into their senior years run the risks of losing cognitive function and are more prone therefore to falls and significant memory loss.