Lead study author Dr. Linda McEvoy of the University of California San Diego (UCSD) said the research, conducted over a period of 29 years, is the first of its kind.
"This study is unique because we considered men and women's cognitive health at late age and found that alcohol consumption is not only associated with reduced mortality, but with greater chances of remaining cognitively healthy into older age," she told the UC San Diego News Center.
McEvoy pointed out that very few of the participants drank to excess and therefore the study does not show the effect that excessive drinking may have on cognitive function while aging.
The report, published in the August issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, suggested that women and men who drink a “moderate to heavy" amount of alcohol five to seven days a week tend to have stronger cognition than those who don’t.
Between 1984 and 2013, researchers analyzed 1,334 elderly adults living in Rancho Bernardo, California, a white-collar suburb of San Diego. Ninety-nine percent of the 616 men and 728 women were white with some college education, according to International Business Times.
They monitored cognitive strength using the Mini Mental State Examination, a standard dementia test.
Co-author Erin Richard, a graduate student at UC San Diego and San Diego State University’s joint doctoral program in Public Health, said, "This study shows that moderate drinking may be part of a healthy lifestyle to maintain cognitive fitness in aging … However, it is not a recommendation for everyone to drink. Some people have health problems that are made worse by alcohol, and others cannot limit their drinking to only a glass or two per day. For these people, drinking can have negative consequences."
A contentious 2013 study published in the Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research journal suggested that people who do not consume alcohol have a higher mortality rate than those who have one to three drinks a day.
Researchers tracked 1,824 participants between the ages of 55 and 65 over a 20-year period. Sixty-nine percent of participants who didn’t drink died during the period, compared to 60 percent of "heavy" drinkers and 41 percent of "moderate" drinkers.
'Even after taking account of traditional and non-traditional covariates, moderate alcohol consumption continued to show a beneficial effect in predicting mortality risk," the researchers found.