A new study by researchers of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the University of California, San Francisco, has shown that people who start abusing alcohol after the age of 40 are more likely to present the symptom of dementia, according to Science Daily.

The study findings were published Monday in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Overall, 1.7% of older adults in the United States report alcohol abuse. Previous studies have shown that chronic alcoholism is one of the risk factors for dementia. However, it was unclear whether older adults who start abusing alcohol later in life have an underlying neurodegenerative disease.

The study’s senior author Dr. Georges Naasan said, “Our study aimed to identify and compare the frequencies of lifetime alcohol abuse, late-onset alcohol abuse, and alcohol abuse as the first symptom of dementia in a group of patients living with several forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia.”

“What we found is that alcohol abuse may be the first sign of an underlying neurological condition when it presents late in life,” he added. “In fact, up to 7 percent (nearly 1 in 15) of patients with frontotemporal dementia started abusing alcohol late in life, and 5 percent (1 in 20) did so as the first symptom of the disease.”

“While it is important to identify social factors that may lead to alcohol abuse, such as retirement, loneliness, or loss of income/loved ones/housing, our data should implore health care workers to avoid systematically attributing alcohol abuse to these aspects and prompt clinicians to investigate the possibility of frontal lobe dysfunction,” Dr. Naasan explained.

The researchers found that late-onset alcohol abuse was significantly more frequent in patients with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia than those with dementia related to Alzheimer’s.

In addition, the team found that alcohol abuse occurred as the first symptom in 1.4 percent of all patients, which is five times more frequently in patients with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia than those with Alzheimer’s-related dementia.

The findings indicate that late-onset alcohol abuse is more frequent in behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia than Alzheimer’s-type dementia. The results also indicate the likelihood that the biological mechanisms underlying late-onset and lifelong alcohol abuse are different, per Science Daily.

Dr. Naasan said, “Because patients who begin using alcohol late in life are usually first seen by psychiatrists, primary care providers, and rehabilitation specialists, these professionals should be aware of the possibility that a neurodegenerative disease might be underlying the onset of alcohol abuse late in life in people who historically didn’t abuse alcohol.”

“Therefore, a specific evaluation including checking for other frontal lobe symptoms should be performed, and patients at risk should be referred to a neurologist,” he added. “An early and appropriate diagnosis in those patients is paramount for providing the best management, improving patients’ and families’ quality of life, and channeling patients to appropriate care facilities.”