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What You Need To Know About Alcohol-Induced Dementia

December 26, 2017

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There are more than 70 million baby boomers living in the United States. As this part of our population keeps getting older, there will be a need to diagnose and treat many conditions typically seen in older adults. Alcohol Induced Dementia is one of them.

It’s not a fairly common diagnosis, but alcohol-induced dementia is already being called one of the greatest challenges seniors and elder care professionals will face. That’s because there’s a lot about alcohol-induced dementia that doctors just don’t understand. It can also be more difficult for family members to support someone diagnosed with alcohol-induced dementia.

To help clear up some of the confusion about the condition, here is what you need to know about alcohol-induced dementia.

What Is Alcohol-Induced Dementia?

To understand alcohol-induced dementia, you must first understand what dementia is. Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability that’s severe enough to interfere with daily life. It’s a progressive disease. Memory loss is an example, but Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia. It typically affects people age 50 and up.

How Alcohol-Induced Dementia Starts

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Dementia is not a specific disease. It's an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, or other thinking skills, severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities.

Their researchers also note that while most changes in the brain that cause dementia are permanent and worsen over time, thinking and memory problems caused by the following conditions may improve when the condition is treated or addressed:

  • Depression
  • Medication side effects
  • Thyroid problems
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Excess use of alcohol

There have been a number of studies that show excessive and long-term alcohol use can lead to permanent brain damage. Not only can it affect the function of the brain, but the structure, too.

Researchers say up to 78% of people diagnosed with alcoholism demonstrate some degree of brain disease.

Two Varieties of Alcohol-Induced Dementia

There are actually two variations of alcohol-induced dementia that are typically diagnosed. They’ve been identified as:

  1. Korsakoff syndrome: Russian neuropsychiatrist Sergei Korsakoff discovered the disease. It stems from extremely low levels of thiamine, also known as vitamin B-1. According to the Alzheimer's Association, long-term alcohol abuse can drastically reduce thiamine in the body. It falls under the alcohol-induced dementia umbrella because difficulties with short and long-term memory are common. If it’s not treated, it can lead to the full spectrum of dementia symptoms.
  2. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome: This is also known as alcohol-induced persisting amnestic syndrome. It too, is an alcohol-induced dementia related to a severe thiamine deficiency, so it’s considered to be a variant of Korsakoff’s syndrome. The only difference is that it can also cause episodes of Wernicke’s encephalopathy. This causes motor skills to fail and bleeding in the brain.

Scientists don't yet know why heavy drinking causes severe thiamine deficiency in some alcoholics, while others may be affected primarily by alcohol's effects on the liver, stomach, heart, intestines or other body systems.

Treating Alcohol-Induced Dementia

It’s encouraging to know that alcohol-induced dementia appears to be treatable. About about 75 percent of people diagnosed with alcohol-induced dementia can recover to some degree over time. But that’s only if it is diagnosed early and treated promptly.

As alcohol-induced dementia progresses, it’s important for family members to recognize what may be happening. If you want to help, the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence recommends strategies like:

  • Learning what you can about alcohol dependency
  • Keep expressing love and concern
  • Don’t expect them to stop without help

If you, or someone you know, may be looking to live a healthier lifestyle. Downloading our guide “Know Your Numbers” may be a good place to start.

Know Your Numbers

It addresses recommended alcohol consumption levels, as well as information on knowing the numbers that mean most to your health.