Alcohol Dementia

The Correlation Between Alcohol and Dementia

Alcohol dementia, or alcoholic dementia, is the term used to described the loss of mental function associated with chronic alcoholism, often referred to as wet brain syndrome. It is also sometimes called wet brain syndrome, although this syndrome can be experienced by people who do not consume any alcohol at all.

Alcohol itself does not destroy the white matter, or thinking part of the brain. It does seem to have some affect on the grey matter.

The primary issue is the malnutrition typically associated with alcohol and the fact that it blocks the absorption of Vitamin B1, thiamine. The combination of poor nutrition that leads to Vit B1 deficiency and alcohol blocking the absorption of any thiamine consumed leads to wet brain syndrome.

There are more elderly that are alcoholics than you think, and any statistic is skewed because they don't accurately report. Gramma, who drinks several glasses of wine an evening, may not think she is an alcoholic.

Many people in this situation are completely unaware of their dependency, or the health consequences that could be associated with it.

Symptoms of Alcohol Dementia

The effects of alcohol and dementia can be subtle, and it may be difficult for you to see what is thiamine deficiency and what is the intoxicating effects of the alcohol by itself. But the thiamine deficiency symptoms may be the primary one you see.

Symptoms typical of alcohol dementia include the following:

  • Confabulation: Remembering events that never happened
  • Loss of memory: Especially short term memory loss
  • Staggering gait: This can lead to falls and injuries
  • Hallucinations: Both visual hallucinations and auditory ones as well
  • Problems with vision: Double vision is common

As you can see, it is difficult to distinguish true alcohol dementia from being intoxicated. If your loved one drinks on a daily basis and you notice any of these symptoms, you may need to address this with both them and their physician.

Advice for Caregivers

This can be a touchy subject that your parents, grandparents or elderly loved one does not believe is any of your business. A gentle approach is necessary, but if you are seeing symptoms that you believe could be caused by alcohol dementia, it is imperative that you address it in one manner or another.

People can die from alcohol withdrawal. Most people don't know that, but it is a very serious medical condition. If your loved one wants to totally quit drinking, or is suddenly unable to drink from swallowing difficulties or a stroke, the withdrawal should be done on an inpatient basis under the direct supervision of a physician in most cases.

That is not to say that it can't be done at home, but you need to understand the physical risk and your physician should be aware that you are attempting this at home. There are medications they can prescribed that can make the withdrawal less physically demanding on the body.

If your loved one refuses to stop drinking, there are some things you can do to mitigate the risks associated with alcohol and dementia.

  1. Slowly decrease the amount of alcohol consumed
  2. Make sure they are eating a balanced diet
  3. Be careful with sugar. Excess glucose (simple sugars) can actually make alcohol dementia worse
  4. Provide a good multi vitamin and additional thiamine (Vitamin B1) daily
  5. Accurately report the amount of alcohol consumption if they are ever admitted into the hospital. Most times people would not tell us, and therefore we did not provide the care needed.
  6. Include some good vitamins for memory that may help protect the brain.

Alcohol dementia is one of the few dementias that can be partially reversible. There is no guarantee that all symptoms will go away, but the fact that some may makes it important that their doctors knows so adequate treatment and nutritional support can be initiated.

Even if your loved one has been diagnosed with an irreversible type of dementia, alcohol consumption may be contributing to memory loss and physical disabilities.

Alcoholics Anonymous has groups in most cities and towns across the country. They have groups for veterans and seniors and separate groups for men and women. They can be very helpful if someone wants to quit drinking completely.

You may also find great support at Alanon , a group dedicated to family members of alcoholics. If you feel you need that kind of support, please take the time to give them a call and attend a meeting.

You will be surprised at the amount of love and support you will find there are you deal with the issue of someone you love drinking despite the health consequences.

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