According to research, alcohol consumption is said to have a direct link with dementia development. Risk factors such as smoking and depression have been revealed to have a particular relation with dementia. But, the link between alcohol and dementia is still relatively difficult to conclude.
Excessive drinking for a prolonged period is known to lead to a condition referred to as alcoholic dementia. Just like other types of dementia, this variant of the disorder also results in memory loss. Moreover, it leads to learning impairment as well as a progressive deterioration of one’s cognitive skills. The early signs of dementia might be hard to point out; therefore, it is prudent to watch out for any changes that you might observe in an individual.
The Effect of Alcohol on the Brain
Alcohol has a direct effect on one’s brain cells. This effect results in poor judgment challenged decision making and lack of intuition and insight. A syndrome commonly associated with alcoholic dementia is called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This syndrome encompasses two disorders that may occur together in conjunction or independently namely Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff psychosis. The former results in brain damage including the areas of the hypothalamus and thalamus whereas the latter has been known to affect one’s memory.
Why is Alcohol linked to Dementia
You are not wholly aware of dementia facts. There are multiple reasons why alcohol is linked to brain damage and eventually to dementia development. Firstly, when alcohol is metabolized in the body, it produces acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a compound that is toxic to brain cells.
Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to a deficiency in thiamine. A thiamine deficiency ultimately leads to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is incredibly damaging for the brain. Epilepsy and head injuries are also concerned with alcohol misuse. Additionally, alcohol consumption increases one’s risk of developing vascular dementia. Increased blood pressure is a commonly reported outcome of alcohol consumption which ultimately results in a greater chance of developing vascular dementia.
Despite these factors, the scale and size of this issue remain relatively unclear. Heavy drinking is often associated with other factors such as depression, smoking, and living a sedentary lifestyle. All factors are connected.
What does research suggest
According to research, moderate drinking might be beneficial for the brain. As per the findings of a recent study, both abstinence from alcohol or consuming it in excess is said to raise one’s risk of developing dementia.
While some may think abstinence might be the key to success, according to studies, abstinence results in a higher incidence of cardiometabolic conditions. In fact, it is advised that people consume lower amounts of alcohol to promote cognitive health in older age.
The result of this study should not, however, motivate people to start drinking by ignoring the detrimental effects of alcohol use. These include liver cirrhosis, cancer, neuropsychiatric disorders, and mortality.
Overall, alcohol use disorders play an integral role in dementia development as they increase one’s risk by threefold. Additionally, alcohol is studied to be the most modifiable risk factor amongst the lot. Even without the risk of brain damage, there is still a likelihood that one will develop vascular or another form of dementia owing to alcohol abuse.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholic Dementia
One of the earliest signs of this variant of dementia is confusion paired with memory problems. It is similar to memory problems like other forms of dementia. Alcoholic dementia patients will struggle to recall an event that occurred moments ago but clearly remember an event that took place years back.
Repetition is another sign of alcohol-induced dementia. The affected individual might be seen repeating the same thing multiple times without acknowledging their situation.
What makes their symptoms more interesting is that a patient with alcoholic dementia might seem fine on the surface. They might continue to maintain their happy persona, their witty snark or their ability to play games, etc.
Following are some of the symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy.
- Confusion and loss of mental activity
- Loss of muscle coordination
- Abnormal eye movements (back and forth movements)
- Double vision
- Eyelid drooping
- Alcohol withdrawal
Symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome include:
- Inability to form new memories
- Loss of memory (sometimes severe)
- Making up stories (confabulation)
Testing for Alcoholic Dementia
Brain tests have revealed neuromuscular damage in various parts of the body in people with high levels of alcohol consumption. Routine examination tests include:
- Abnormal eye movement
- Decreased or abnormal reflexes
- Increased heart rate and pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Low body temperature
- Muscle weakness and atrophy
- Problems with gait and coordination
Other routine tests include serum albumin which checks one’s general nutrition, serum vitamin B1 and transketolase in RBCs.
Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to success when handling alcoholic dementia. When caught in its earlier stages, quitting alcohol results in improvement along with a positive change in one’s diet. However, in the case of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, no mode of treatment will be able to restore one’s cognitive functions completely. For this disorder, treatment is aimed at preventing and controlling dementia symptoms from getting worse.
Vitamin B1 is continuously administered. This helps to improve delirium and confusion, overcome any difficulties with vision and eye movement and aids in muscular coordination. Of course, the first protocol would be to get the affected individual to quit alcohol consumption.
Many potential complications may be associated with alcoholic dementia. These include:
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Difficulty in social interaction
- Injuries caused by falls
- Permanent alcoholic neuropathy
- Permanent loss of thinking skills
- Permanent loss of memory
- Shortened life span
The connection between alcohol and dementia has been studied in depth; however, the relationship between the two is yet to be solidified. Alcohol use in excess over a long period has resulted in both long and short-term health issues. Some of them include brain damage that can lead to alcoholic dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. For this reason, prevention is better than cure. Cut down your alcohol intake and reduce your chances of developing dementia now.