Our headline is only mildly sensationalistic. The recently released findings of a German study suggest that among people 75 years and older, moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of dementia. And it doesn't matter whether people prefer beer, wine or hard liquor. What's more, this confirms the results of several previous studies on the relationship between elderly drinkers and dementia.
However, the results don't definitively assert a causal relationship between drinking and decreased dementia. It's hard to separate alcohol consumption from other lifestyle factors — better education, not living alone, absence of depression — that make it less likely people will develop dementia as they age. Since happy people with many friends have more opportunities for social drinking, perhaps its their overall attitude that lessens the likelihood of dementia. Still, even after controlling for these factors, dementia risk was still significantly lower among light or moderate alcohol consumers than among non-drinkers.
This was a relatively large study with a sample size of 3,202 people, both men and women, with a mean age of 80.2 years. It included a large number of non-drinkers and moderate drinkers. The subjects were assessed with a baseline exam, then followed up at 1.5 years and at 3 years with structured clinical interviews. Subjects who consumed alcohol had approximately 30% less overall dementia and 40% less Alzheimer's dementia than did non-drinking subjects. Bottoms up!