The effects of alcohol on cognition in the elderly: From protection to neurodegeneration

Elena Sinforiani, Chiara Zucchella, Chiara Pasotti, Francesca Casoni, Paola Bini, Alfredo Costa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The effects of chronic alcohol abuse on cognition are well known. Memory and executive functions appear to be the cognitive domains primarily impaired, and prefrontal and frontal damage is reported on neuroimaging studies both at micro- and macrostructural levels. Abstinence can partially reverse these alterations through mechanisms of neuroplasticity. Alcohol acts in a dosedependent fashion, and a light-to-moderate consumption indeed has protective effects on cardiovascular risk factors and promotes anti-inflammatory and antioxidative processes. In the elderly on such a regimen, several epidemiological studies have reported a decreased risk of both coronary and cerebrovascular disease and of dementia. However, because of data heterogeneity and the presence of several confounding variables, further studies are needed to clarify these findings. In addition, the complexity of alcohol neurobiology (interaction of alcohol effects with genetic predisposition and environmental factors) and the occurrence of age-related changes should also be taken into account. As dementia, stroke and cardiovascular disease are the leading causes of mortality in older people in developed countries, a better knowledge of the mechanisms underlying the effects of alcohol intake may be helpful from the perspective not only of medical management but also of social health policy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-106
Number of pages4
JournalFunctional Neurology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011


  • Alcohol abuse
  • Cognitive disturbances
  • Dementia
  • Elderly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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