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Everything You Need to Know About Alcohol-Related Dementia

Excessive drinking of alcohol over a period of time can cause certain forms of dementia as a result of damage to the brain and body.

While consumption of alcohol itself has no known link to dementia, those who binge drink or become dependent on alcohol are at risk of developing brain changes that increase the risk of both Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

Learn the symptoms of alcohol-related dementia, and how to best support those struggling with this type of dementia.

Can Drinking Alcohol Cause Dementia?

Drinking alcohol in moderation is not known to cause dementia.

In fact, some types of alcohol, such as red wine, may even boost brain health. However, too much of anything can potentially damage the body.

Drinking alcohol in excess, including wine, can affect a person’s health in numerous ways, such as increasing the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

In turn, research has shown a link between these types of health issues and an increased risk of developing dementia.

Chronic intake of alcohol also is linked to cognitive impairments and brain damage.

What Does Alcohol Do to the Brain?

Studies have shown that prolonged and excessive alcohol consumption may cause structural and functional brain damage. 

It also may potentially lead to damage in the brain’s temporal lobe, similar to the damage that occurs with Alzheimer’s disease.

Experts believe that in some types of dementia, alcohol itself directly damages brain cells, and in others it is caused by nutrient deficiencies from overconsumption of alcohol.

Besides the increased risks of other types of dementia due to poor health from excessive alcohol, there also are forms of dementia believed to be directly tied to alcohol.

These forms of dementia affect learning and memory, among other brain functions.

One specific type of alcohol-related dementia is known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS), and the other is simply known as alcohol-related dementia (ARD). 

WKS is actually two disorders: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome. 

These two disorders might occur independently or together. If Wernicke’s is not properly treated, it can result in developing Korsakoff syndrome.

WKS is not believed to be a direct cause of excessive alcohol consumption, but instead a result of a thiamine deficiency.

Nerve cells require thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, in order to function properly. This vitamin deficiency is common among those who drink in excess.

There are some general dementia symptoms to watch for, and then there are some symptoms that appear specific to WKS.

It’s important to note that symptoms may vary from person to person, especially depending on which parts of the brain are affected.

The following are the general symptoms of dementia that may appear as a result of prolonged, excessive use of alcohol:

  • Trouble staying focused
  • Memory problems
  • Issues with planning, problem-solving, and organization
  • Poor judgment or decision-making skills
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Personality changes
  • Trouble communicating

Below are some symptoms associated specifically with WKS:

  • Confabulation, where the person makes up detailed stories to cover memory gaps
  • Limited ability to learn new things
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Repeatedly asking questions or telling the same stories
  • Issues with gait and coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Abnormal reflexes
  • Low blood pressure and body temperature

If you notice any of the above symptoms, consult with your loved one’s doctor. 

The sooner your loved one is evaluated and treated, the better chance they will have to stop further progression and even improve their symptoms.

After your loved one’s doctor performs an evaluation, they can help determine potential treatment options.

For some, quitting alcohol and consuming a brain-healthy diet can begin to improve symptoms.

Those diagnosed with WKS can begin receiving treatment for their thiamine deficiency. 

While it may not be possible to improve some symptoms caused by the damage, such as memory loss, those with WKS may be able to prevent further development of the disorder with prompt treatment.

How a Loving Memory Care Community Provides Specialized Support

If your loved one has alcohol-related dementia or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome and needs extra support, there are loving communities that provide specialized memory care.

The Kensington Sierra Madre has two memory care neighborhoods, Connections and Haven, that are designed to accommodate specific degrees of memory loss.

If your loved one is working to improve their health with diet and exercise after damage caused by alcohol, The Kensington has numerous services and programs to support them on their journeys.

Our community provides:

At The Kensington Sierra Madre, Our Promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own. We provide a full spectrum of clinical support to our residents, so no matter what they need, they have a home with us.

Reach out to our team today to learn more about the services and support we offer to those with dementia, including alcohol-related dementia or WKS.

Our ultimate goal is to provide the love and support needed to help all our residents achieve their optimal level of independence, while also supporting the people who love them most.

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