Health and Medicine Neuroscience

Alcohol Increasingly Affects Working Memory in Aging Adults

alcohol brain

The short-term memory we use on a day-to-day basis to hold recent events and ideas in the mind for a quick recall is known as working memory. Memory decline often occurs with age and this decline includes our working memory. This decline is however not only caused by age, but alcohol use is also thought to contribute to it.

There are two electrophysiological measurements used to measure brain activity that relates to the maintenance of visual information and cognitive effort. These are posterior alpha power (PAP) and frontal theta power (FTP).

In a recent study, alcohol effects on PAP and FTP was measured on a group of older moderate social drinkers and compared to younger group. Both groups consisted of men and women and all lived in the community. The study was conducted with the participants taking part in a working memory task. The older group consisted of 29 women and 22 men all between 55 and 70 years of age, while the younger group comprised 39 women and 31 men between 25 and 35 years old.

The study participants were all given an alcoholic drink designed to produce a breath alcohol concentration of 0.04 or 0.065 g/dl, or a placebo and time was given for full absorption to take place. Participants were then shown images briefly and asked to recall these during a nine-second delay period. PAP and FTP were recorded during the nine seconds. Working memory maintenance takes place during this time.

PAP was found to be higher in the younger the than the older adults. An increase in active alcohol doses resulted in a decrease in PAP in older adults, while it increased in younger adults. The study points to the fact that PAP activity may help to identify the negative effects of alcohol on working-memory efficiency in older adults. It further highlights that younger adults are less sensitive to the neurobehavioral effects brought on by moderate alcohol use than older adults are.

Study has been published in the Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.