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UWEC student research team stunned by findings on alcohol’s effect on aged brains

Published: Feb. 10, 2021 at 5:28 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Understanding the impacts of alcohol on the brain is research that is never ending and there’s one age group usually left out of experimentation. However, that is changing thanks to research at UW- Eau Claire.

64% of high schoolers in Wisconsin say they have experimented with alcohol according to the Department of Health Services.

“We spend a lot of time in the lab studying how adolescents use alcohol, misuse alcohol and the effects it has on their neurobiology,” said UWEC Professor of Psychology, Doug Matthews.

Dr. Matthews and his student research team recently shifted their focus towards the effects of alcohol on older subjects. An area far less studied.

“We didn’t really know what would happen. We didn’t know much about it and the effects in aged animals were so large it was one of those moments where you look at it and you’re like wow!”

Dr. Matthews says the motor abilities and balance in the aged animals were unexpected and alarming.

“It’s not that they were impaired it was that they couldn’t perform the task. The impairment and motor ability and balance was so severe that it was incapable of behaving.”

As senior neuroscience major Samantha Scaletty explains, these findings did not match what they expected going in. Scaletty told WEAU,

“We thought that one you age you’re more impaired and then you stay that way but it’s looking like as you age that impairment increases as you get older.”

“There are profound risks to alcohol consumption even just two or three drinks in an older individual because it has such a significant impact on their behavior,” Matthews said.

In every age group, Wisconsinites drink more than the national averages. Dr. Matthews says that could correlate to another grim statistic.

“Wisconsin has the highest rate of death in older individuals due to falling and much like everybody my initial thought was ice, snow and stuff like that but there’s many states that have the same weather pattern and still Wisconsin is higher.”

The research group has come a long way in proving increased sensitivity levels among aging brains and hopes in a year from now, they may be able to answer why.

Matthews says Mayo Clinic Health Systems has played a role in their research with funding, as well as creating partnerships and collaboration with neuroscientists in the area.

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