A team from the University of Exeter examined eight years of data from 5,075 men and women aged 65 years and over.
Participants who reported heavy episodic drinking at least two times a month were more than twice as likely to be among participants suffering the greatest loss of memory and cognitive function.
Dr Iain Lang, who led the study, said binge drinking was already known to have a number of harmful effects.
‘It can increase the risk of harm to the cardiovascular system, including the chance of developing heart disease, and it is related to an increased risk of both intentional and unintentional injuries,’ he said.
‘However, until we conducted our study it was not clear what the effect was of binge drinking on cognitive function and the risk of developing dementia.’
Dr Lang said the finding that binge drinking is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline was a ‘real worry’.
‘This research has a number of implications,’ he said. ‘First, older people – and their doctors – should be aware that binge drinking may increase their risk of experiencing cognitive decline and encouraged to change their drinking behaviours accordingly.
‘Second, policymakers and public health specialists should know that binge drinking is not just a problem among adolescents and younger adults. We have to start thinking about older people when we are planning interventions to reduce binge drinking.’
The research was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2012 in Vancouver, Canada.