Not only can coffee keep you more awake and alert during the day, it may keep your brain functioning longer over your entire life (which it might also prolong, as we reported earlier).

New research suggests that drinking about three cups of coffee per day might stave off Alzheimer's disease in older adults experiencing memory decline, CBS News reports.

The study of 124 adults ages 65 to 88 with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) found that caffeine and coffee intake was associated with a reduced risk of developing dementia, or at least delayed onset of the disease.

MCI is diagnosed in older people when they display early signs of dementia, such as memory loss that's beyond normal amounts expected in aging, but can still perform daily activities, according to the Mayo Clinic. The condition often progresses into Alzheimer's within a few years.

Over a two- to four-year follow-up in the study, in which researchers examined blood caffeine levels among participants, they found that participants with MCI who progressed to dementia had 51 percent lower caffeine levels compared with those with MCI who remained stable. Their findings were published in the June 5 issue of Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

The researchers identified a “critical level” of caffeine needed to provide protective benefits of 1,200 nanograms per milliliters — about the equivalent of drinking several cups of coffee a few hours before blood samples were drawn. Among participants who developed Alzheimer's, not one had such high blood caffeine levels. But many participants with MCI that hadn't progressed had blood caffeine levels higher than the critical level.

“These intriguing results suggest that older adults with mild memory impairment who drink moderate levels of coffee — about three cups a day — will not convert to Alzheimer's disease or at least will experience a substantial delay before converting to Alzheimer's,” study author Dr. Chuanhai Cao, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute, said in a written statement. “The results from this study, along with our earlier studies in Alzheimer's mice, are very consistent in indicating that moderate daily caffeine/coffee intake throughout adulthood should appreciably protect against Alzheimer's disease later in life.”

Cao's mouse research dating to 2006 suggests caffeine interacts with an unidentified component in coffee to boost levels of a growth factor in the blood that seems to stall the Alzheimer's disease process.

“We are not saying that moderate coffee consumption will completely protect people from Alzheimer's disease,” Cao cautioned. “However, we firmly believe that moderate coffee consumption can appreciably reduce your risk of Alzheimer's or delay its onset.”

As a side benefit, it will also help you kick ass at bingo.

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