Many people fear the losses associated with growing older. One concern that people often mention is memory loss or the reduced ability to continue to vibrantly interact with their surroundings and others. Exercising mind and body and staying socially involved can help to reduce the risks of losing precious cognitive abilities. What many people may not realize is that 15 to 20 percent of dementia cases are attributable to the abuse of alcohol.
The Mayo Clinic defines dementia not as a disease but as “a group of symptoms affecting intellectual and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning.” Some forms of dementia are progressive and irreversible while others are brought on by controllable risk factors. Alcohol dementia is an example of the latter.
Dangers of Alcohol Abuse
Some studies show that light to moderate alcohol consumption, such as one glass of wine per day for women and two per day for men, could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. However, heavier alcohol consumption may contribute to the condition. This is because alcohol, especially in larger doses, acts as a neurotoxin in the brain.
Alcohol consumption is not presently linked to the development of Alzheimer’s, but the dangers of heavy drinking are significant. In fact, alcohol dementia presents 10 years sooner in life than Alzheimer’s and also leads to earlier death than Alzheimer’s. Dementia resulting from heavy drinking seriously impairs quality of life by negatively impacting memory, learning and other cognitive functions in the same way other forms of dementia do.
The negative effects of alcohol abuse on the liver contribute to impaired brain function. In a similar way, excessive drinking inhibits the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B1, a nutrient essential to healthy brain function.
Symptoms of Alcohol Dementia
Common symptoms of alcohol dementia include:
- Impaired ability to study and learn new things
- Reduced ability to form sound judgments
- Personality changes
- Confusion and difficulties with memory/recall
- Tendency to repeat oneself
- Difficulty in communicating, or diminished language skills
- Lack of comprehension
- Difficulty managing and resolving daily living issues
- Mood swings, a lack of emotions, anger or agitation
- Struggles with motor skills and coordination
Treatment for Alcohol Dementia
Treatment for alcohol dementia is limited, but if the condition is recognized and addressed at an early stage the prognosis for recovery is improved. First, the person must abstain from further alcohol consumption. Second, people suffering with alcohol abuse and dementia are doubly likely to be malnourished. For this reason, it is important to follow a nutritious diet to support full body health.
A person experiencing alcohol dementia may also be helped by taking vitamin B1 supplements. As mentioned above, heavy drinking of alcohol can disrupt the body’s ability to metabolize this key substance. Finally, following a doctor’s instructions to address any concurrent medical conditions will help to reverse the losses experienced from alcohol dementia.
Alcohol dementia is a serious but preventable condition. Unlike other factors such as genetics, age and sex which increase the likelihood of developing dementia, alcohol is a risk factor that can be controlled. Alcohol dementia is also one of a very few forms of dementia whose symptoms may be reversed by lifestyle changes.