Alcohol Related Dementia - Long-term heavy drinking may cause alcohol related dementia by directly damaging brain cells or causing health problems that produce brain damage.
Fact: Alcohol related dementia is one of the five most common forms of intellectual loss in older persons.
Alcohol & Dementia
Heavy, sustained alcohol consumption is the primary risk factor for the development of alcohol related dementia. In addition, extreme alcohol consumption may worsen the intellectual and psychiatric symptoms in individuals with other types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Alcohol damages neurons, or brain cells, throughout the brain; however, the frontal lobes and cerebellum are particularly prone to injury.
Diagnosis of Alcohol Related Dementia
- Alcohol related dementia is under-diagnosed by primary care providers.
- The diagnosis requires a careful clinical history and physical examination, which may reveal evidence of neurological damage from heavy drinking.
- The clinical symptoms resemble those of other types of dementia, including memory problems, language impairment and inability to perform complex motors tasks like dressing.
- Brain imaging or other clinical studies are not helpful in distinguishing alcohol related dementia from other diseases.
- Neuropsychological testing can sometimes help clarify this diagnosis.
- A person sometimes may exhibit psychiatric symptoms, such as psychosis, depression, anxiety and personality changes, before exhibiting intellectual loss.
- Psychiatric problems are common in individuals with alcohol related dementia, including apathy, irritability and resistiveness that result from damage to the frontal lobes.
- Individuals cannot be diagnosed with dementia while they are in withdrawal or experiencing serious medical complications resulting from the substance abuse, e.g., liver failure, gastrointestinal bleeds.
- Korsakoff’s psychosis is frequently confused with alcohol related dementia. However, it is not a dementia, but rather a pure amnesia.
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Treatment of Alcohol Related Dementia
- Treatment of alcohol related dementia requires sobriety, vitamin replacement, correction of medical problems and management of behavior problems.
- Individuals with alcohol related dementia may stabilize or show small improvements in intellectual function over time if they maintain continuous sobriety; others demonstrate progressive cognitive loss.
- Current drug treatments for Alzheimer’s disease are not shown beneficial for individuals with alcohol related dementia.
- Psychiatric problems produced by alcohol related dementia are treated with appropriate antidepressants or antipsychotics.
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Prevention of Alcohol Related Dementia
- A common sense approach to alcohol consumption as well as screening and counseling by health care professionals can help.
- A person who drinks more than one ounce of alcohol per day should discuss this drinking with his or her primary care provider.
- Older individuals should avoid consuming more than one ounce of alcohol—such as one bottle of beer, one glass of wine, one shot glass of hard liquor—per day.
- Vitamin supplementation including B-complex and Thiamin helps the recovering alcoholic; however, sobriety is the most important intervention for problem drinkers.
- A person with any form of dementia or neurological damage should avoid alcohol.
Source: Dementia Training & Education Program, State of Alabama
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