Alcohol and Dementia Part I: Facts
When we say the word Dementia, the first thing that comes to mind is Alzheimer’s disease. There are many types of dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common cause in the United States. You probably knew this, but what you may not have been aware of is that the second most common cause of dementia is alcohol!
As with all other dementias, alcohol related dementia also involves progressive brain damage and loss of mental function. Dementia associated with alcoholism is characterized by little or no ability to learn new things (impairments in short term memory and learning) with (or without) other cognitive impairments (abstract thinking, judgement and other, higher level cortical/intellectual functions), usually accompanied by noticeable personality changes (anger and irritability, suspiciousness and paranoia, unstable moods, etc.).
Dementia may be caused by the direct effects of alcohol on brain cells, especially those in the front part of the brain, causing impairment in higher/intellectual functioning – judgment, decision making ability, insight, etc. Malnutrition ?especially a deficiency iVitamin B1 (Thiamine) ? resulting from long-term alcohol abuse can also cause damage to certain brain areas, resulting in loss of certain other mental functions, such as short term memory or the ability to learn new things.
While most dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease, start with short term memory loss, in alcohol dementia there may not be much initial short term memory loss. However, other cognitive impairments will present ? especially in higher intellectual functioning associated with the front part of the brain ? as well as personality changes.
The best indicator of this syndrome is considered to be changes in personality, along with other warning signs such as confusion, memory loss, difficulty with familiar tasks and poor judgment and language problems ? not just intact remote memory, with impaired recent memory, as in Alzheimer ’s disease.
Also, unlike Alzheimer’s, dementia related to alcohol not only affects the elderly but its onset could happen as early as 30. However, its effects are usually only seen between 50-70 years of age.
Dementia associated with alcoholism does not include a specified set of symptoms that must be present, but a cluster of symptoms all or some of which might be present. It is closely associated with Alcohol Amnestic Disorder.
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