Alcohol and Dementia Part II: Signs & Symptoms - Sovereign Health Group
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08-13-10 Category: Alcohol Addiction

Impaired short term memory and learning

As in the case of dementia not associated with alcohol, individuals suffering from alcohol induced dementia may have no difficulty recalling events that happened years back, meaning they have intact remote memory, but will have difficulty recalling recent events. Alcohol induced dementia victims may have trouble recalling events that happened just a minutes back, indicating impaired short term/recent memory. They may have little or no ability to remember new information, or they may forget what has been learned more rapidly. All forms of learning requiring storage of information may be affected.

An individual suffering from this condition may repeat things over and over again in a conversation or ask the same question repeatedly, without realizing that they are repeating themselves. They may not remember people they just met and, upon seeing the person again after a short time, may greet the person like they were meeting for the first time. They may not remember whether they ate and may ask for their meals repeatedly, even though they just ate. Occasionally these individuals may forget what happened to them just an instant ago.

Disturbances in higher cognitive functions and intellectual functioning

Sometimes short term memory impairment may not initially be present to a great extent. Instead, impairment in higher cognitive functions/intellectual functioning may be more noticeable. These include planning, judgment, reasoning, drawing conclusions, abstraction, set shifting abilities and difficulty engaging in intellectual activities/games such as chess or cards.

At other times, memory and learning problems may exist whilst all other cognitive faculties remaining intact. Vitamindeficiency (especially vitamin B1, or thiamine) in alcoholism may sometimes affect only certain brain areas, impairing the ability to learn new information, whilst leaving other areas and functions intact.

Personality changes

Changes in personality that accompany dementia disorderssuch as Alzheimer’s are seen in this condition as well and include frustration, anger and irritability or a lack of overall emotional response; suspiciousness and paranoia; unstable moods; loss of inhibitions; insensitivity to others; and fear of being alone.


A symptom resulting from short term memory impairments, commonly noticed in alcohol dementia, is fabrication or confabulation. Individuals with this condition may tend to fill the gaps in their memory by fabricating stories. Thus, when reporting their activities or experiences, they may make up or invent certain parts for which they are unable to recall the facts, or they may present the facts out of sequence, as a result of which their narration of incidents may seem far fetched.

Other signs and symptoms – Apart from the cognitive impairments mentioned above, other signs and symptoms of alcohol related dementia include the following:

  • Confusion and disorientation regarding time, place and people
  • Concentrating difficulties, inattentiveness
  • Language/communication, problems involving difficulty using or finding words, as well as holding and following conversations.
  • Poor visual motor-coordination, a slow, wide-gaited shuffling walk.

If you notice any of the above mentioned signs and symptoms in a family member or friend who is either suffering from alcoholism or who has been a heavy drinker most of his/her life, you might want to consult a doctor or a professional from the field.

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