Moderate Alcohol May Impair Short Term Memory In Older Adults Interview with:
Jeff Boissoneault, PhD Research Assistant Professor Center for Pain Research and Behavioral Health Department of Clinical and Health Psychology University of FloridaJeff Boissoneault, PhD
Research Assistant Professor
Center for Pain Research and Behavioral Health
Department of Clinical and Health Psychology
University of Florida What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Many older adults are regular moderate drinkers. Although moderate drinking is considered to be a low risk behavior, growing evidence suggests older adults may be more susceptible to the cognitive and behavioral effects of moderate alcohol intake than younger people. We have previously shown that blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) below the legal limit for driving in the United States, 0.08 g/dL, affect working, or short-term, memory performance in older but not younger adults. For this study, we examined frontal theta power (FTP) and posterior alpha power (PAP), which are electrophysiological measures of brain activity associated with cognitive effort and maintenance of visual information, during a working memory task in both older and younger social drinkers.

We found that during a nine-second delay period during which participants held briefly-displayed images in memory, moderate alcohol intake increased PAP in younger adults but decreased PAP in older adults. Examining the relationship between PAP and behavioral performance (accuracy and reaction time) suggested older adults may attempt to compensate for moderate alcohol-induced working memory impairment by prioritizing quick responding over the protection of their mental representation of the task images from environmental distractions. Younger adults did not show this effect. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Moderate alcohol use is often assumed to be a healthy lifestyle choice. However, each episode of moderate drinking can have significant effects on cognitive and behavioral function that may be exacerbated among older adults. Although additional research is needed, these data add to the evidence that older adults should be especially aware of the acute effects that sub-intoxicating doses of alcohol may have on them. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Our work was conducted in a carefully isolated laboratory setting, so additional studies using environments more similar to those in which people typically drink socially would strengthen conclusions.

In addition, the working memory task used in this study was relatively simple. Using a more complex or difficult working memory task in future studies may help identify acute moderate alcohol effects more readily.


Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2016 Jul 15. doi: 10.1111/acer.13154. [Epub ahead of print]
Effects of Age and Acute Moderate Alcohol Administration on Electrophysiological Correlates of Working Memory Maintenance.
Boissoneault J1,2, Frazier I3, Lewis B4, Nixon SJ3,4.

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on July 19, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD