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Can Caffeine Prevent Memory Loss Among Seniors?

By Mary-Frances Walsh, 9:00 am on

The effect of caffeine and coffee on short- and long-term memory has been studied many times. According to Sonoma County senior care professionals, the evidence currently suggests that caffeine may help some seniors reduce their risk of dementia, but no randomized controlled trials have yet examined whether caffeine can prevent or slow cognitive decline. In honor of Caffeine Awareness Month, here are the results of some of the most promising studies conducted on caffeine and memory loss. 

Caffeine May Slow Memory Loss

According to a 2014 study conducted by the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee, the caffeine and polyphenols in coffee may offer protective benefits to older people. Researchers believe caffeine helps prevent the buildup of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain that are a hallmark of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Caffeine works as an antioxidant and reduces inflammation in the brain that some researchers think is the key to understanding age-related cognitive decline.

The study of more than 5,000 people found that those who drank over 3 cups of coffee per day were less likely to develop dementia during the 4-year follow-up period, but it seems the protective benefit of regular coffee consumption declined after this time. After the 4-year follow-up, it appeared the benefits reversed. The researchers suggested the short-term benefits of caffeine may have caused a delayed onset of symptoms and a delayed diagnosis of dementia.

A 2012 study found similar results, suggesting that while caffeine can’t prevent Alzheimer’s, it may slow the transition from mild cognitive decline to dementia.

Protective Benefit in Women

A 2007 study conducted by the University of Paris found that women, but not men, who drank at least 3 cups of caffeinated coffee or tea per day had less cognitive and memory decline over time on tests compared to women who drank one cup or less per day. The benefits of caffeine for women seemed to increase with age as well. At the age of 65, women who consumed caffeine were 30 percent less likely to show signs of memory decline than other women. Women over 80 who drank at least 3 cups of coffee or tea a day were 70 percent less likely to have memory decline.

It’s believed that caffeine helps to block adenosine receptors in the brain to prevent damage caused by beta-amyloid plaques.

Caffeine and Tau Deposits

Finally, a 2014 study supports the idea that caffeine has a positive effect on tau deposits, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. French and German researchers showed that mice bred to develop tau protein deposits experienced slower memory decline when given regular doses of caffeine compared to control mice. The study also showed that caffeine seems to reduce oxidative and pro-inflammatory stress markers in the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with memory

Has your loved one recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? If you and your family could use additional support during this time, don’t hesitate to reach out to Home Care Assistance. Our Sonoma County Alzheimer’s care ensures local seniors have the resources necessary to age in place while maintaining comfort and safety. To learn more, please call (707) 843.4368 and request a complimentary in-home consultation.