Heavy drinkers are at serious risk of dementia, according to a new study that analysed more than a million patients diagnosed with the illness between 2008 and 2013.
The study, published Tuesday in the Lancet Public Health journal, included 1,109,343 dementia patients discharged from French hospitals during the period.
“Alcohol use disorders were the strongest modifiable risk factor for dementia onset,” the study said.
Researchers said nearly 40 percent of the 57,353 cases of early-onset dementia (below 65 years) were directly alcohol-related, and 17.6 percent had an additional diagnosis of alcohol use disorders.
They advised screening for heavy drinking be part of regular medical care, with intervention or treatment offered when necessary.
“What is most surprising about this paper is that it has taken us so long to recognize that alcohol misuse and dependence are such potent risk factors for the development of dementia,” Robert Howard, professor of old age psychiatry at University College London, was quoted by The Guardian as saying.
Lead author Michael Schwarzinger also noted in the report that the research showed damage done to the brain by alcohol is never repaired.
For heavy drinkers who had been sober for a time, the level of risk of dementia is “about the same”, he said.