Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Heavy alcohol use is the most important preventable risk factor in the onset of all types of dementia, according to a large study conducted in France.
The data, published Tuesday in The Lancet Public Health journal, was derived from 31.6 million adults discharged from French hospitals between 2008 to 2013.
A total of 1.3 million people were diagnosed with dementia during the five-year span. The condition is caused by damage to the brain and includes progressive deterioration in cognitive ability and capacity for independent living and functioning.
Researchers found that of the 57,000 cases of early onset dementia, 38.9 percent were alcohol-related by definition and 17.6 percent had additional diagnosis of alcohol use disorders. A total of 64.9 percent of all early-onset dementia patients were men, although the majority of all dementia patients were woman.
Only the most severe cases of alcohol use disorder -- ones involving hospitalization -- were included in the study.
Heavy drinking is defined as more than 60 grams of pure alcohol at least once in 30 days, according to the World Health Organization. One standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol.
"The findings indicate that heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are the most important risk factors for dementia, and especially important for those types of dementia which start before age 65, and which lead to premature deaths," said Dr. Jurgen Rehm, study co-author and director of the CAMH Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, in a release from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health. "Alcohol-induced brain damage and dementia are preventable, and known-effective preventive and policy measures can make a dent into premature dementia deaths."
Rehm noted alcohol use disorders shorten life expectancy by more than 20 years, and the authors wrote in the study that "alcohol use disorders should be recognized as a major risk factor for all types of dementia."
Other risk factors for dementia onset include tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, lower education, depression and hearing loss.
"As a geriatric psychiatrist, I frequently see the effects of alcohol use disorder on dementia, when unfortunately alcohol treatment interventions may be too late to improve cognition," said Dr. Bruce Pollock, vice president of research at CAMH. "Screening for and reduction of problem drinking, and treatment for alcohol use disorders need to start much earlier in primary care."
The study authors noted that alcohol can be reduced with reduction of availability, increase of taxation and bans on advertising and marketing.
"If all these measures are implemented widely, they could not only reduce dementia incidence or delay dementia onset, but also reduce all alcohol-attributable morbidity and mortality," the researchers wrote.