NT looks behind the headlines on a recent story into the supposed protective effects of caffeine on dementia in women.
What did the media say?
The media reported that drinking coffee may help older women ward off mental decline.
What did the research show?
The stories were based on a French observational study, published in August 2007, in the journal Neurology.
Researchers recruited over 4,000 women and nearly 3,000 men, aged 65 and over, and compared their caffeine consumption over four years.
The authors found that women who drank more than three cups of coffee per day showed less cognitive decline, assessed by a series of memory tests, than those who drank one cup or less per day.
The protective effect of caffeine was also found to increase with age in women. No relation between caffeine intake and cognitive decline was found in men.
What did the researchers say?
Study author Karen Ritchie, director of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research, said: ‘Caffeine use is already widespread and it has fewer side effects than other treatments for cognitive decline, and it requires a relatively small amount for a beneficial effect.
‘While we have some ideas as to how this works biologically, we need to have a better understanding of how caffeine affects the brain before we can start promoting caffeine intake as a way to reduce cognitive decline.
‘We really need a longer study to look at whether caffeine prevents dementia; it might be that caffeine could slow the dementia process rather than preventing it.’
She added that it was not clear why the protective effect did not seem to apply to men.
What does this mean for nursing practice?Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said: ‘With no cure yet for Alzheimer’s, research into factors that could protect us from the onset of the disease is very important.
‘This four year study does not suggest that caffeine actually lowers rates of dementia in women, but since memory seems improved, it may be that it is slowing it down.‘However, research over a much longer period is still needed to establish fully what the affects of caffeine are in both men and women and whether it could reduce a person’s risk of dementia or slow down its progress.
Suzanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, added: ‘This study provides some of the best evidence yet that drinking coffee can help prevent some aspects of cognitive decline in women.
‘But these types of studies are complex because coffee and tea drinking can be linked to so many other social and lifestyle factors.’
Neurology (2007) 69: 536-545