What is alcoholic dementia?
Alcoholic dementia is a type of alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD). If a person has alcoholic dementia symptoms they will struggle with day-to-day tasks. This is because of the damage to their brain, caused by regularly drinking too much alcohol over many years. The person may have memory loss and difficulty thinking things through. They may have problems with more complex tasks, such as managing their finances. The symptoms may cause problems with daily life. For example, the person may no longer be able to cook a meal.
The effects of alcohol abuse are very wide, they can lead to Alcohol-Induced Dementia, but those that are more commonly known are frequently liver disease and kidney affections. However, drinking heavily can also cause severe brain damage and affects a big number of people worldwide. In the scientific piece ‘Contribution of alcohol use disorders to the burden of dementia in France 2008–13: a nationwide retrospective cohort study, published by The Lancet Public Health, researchers analyzed a nationwide retrospective cohort of all adult patients, older than 20 years old, admitted to hospital in metropolitan France between 2008 and 2013.
Alcoholic dementia symptoms
Alcoholic dementia symptoms include difficulties with:
- Staying focused on a task without becoming distracted
- Solving problems, planning and organising
- Setting goals, making judgements and making decisions
- Being motivated to do tasks or activities (even essential ones like eating or drinking) controlling their emotions – they may become irritable or have outbursts
- Understanding how other people are thinking or feeling (their behaviour may seem insensitive or uncaring).
Alcoholic dementia symptoms can change a lot from person to person. If a person with the condition has a brain scan, it will often show that some areas of the brain have shrunk much more than others. Alcohol particularly affects the frontal lobes of the brain.
A person with alcoholic dementia symtoms may also have problems with their memory. They might not be able to understand new information – for example, they may quickly forget the details of a conversation. They may also not be able to recall knowledge and events, such as where they lived previously or places where they have been on holiday.
A person with alcoholic dementia symptoms may be unsteady on their feet and more likely to fall over – even when they are sober. This is because alcohol damages the part of the brain that controls balance, coordination, and posture.
Alcoholic dementia symptoms can also cause problems with a person’s mood, such as apathy, depression, or irritability. These can make it even harder for the person to stop drinking – and make it difficult for people close to them to help.
Alcoholic dementia symptoms and signs
Some of the most common alcoholic dementia symptoms are:
- Loss of speech
- Difficulties learning
- Trouble with complex problem-solving
- Getting lost on familiar paths
- Difficulties completing simple tasks, like following a cooking recipe
- Confusion regarding the place or time the person is in
- Difficulties appropriately stringing sentences or words together
- Unexplained changes in personality or character
- Lying without realizing it
- Abnormal eye movement
- Decreased or abnormal reflexes
- Fabricating stories
- Memory loss
- Muscle weakness
- Problems with motor movement and coordination
Causes of alcoholic dementia
People with alcohol abuse disorders tend to have nutritional deficiencies, due to the alcohol consumption itself, and also because they tend to neglect their diet. This causes health problems, such as thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency which may lead to dementia. Thiamine, or vitamin B1, is a vitamin often found in food dietary supplements that help the body convert food into energy. Without enough thiamine, the body can’t work properly. Because chronic alcoholics often drink more than they eat, they’re usually low on this important vitamin.
If a person with a drinking problem does not receive substance abuse treatment, they’re more likely to develop impairments of memory and other cognitive issues related to dementia. Avoiding drinking can be a challenge for a lot of people. At We Level Up Treatment Center we have qualified professionals that can offer support for you or someone you love. Rehabilitation treatment can reduce the risk of developing alcoholic dementia symptoms.
Alcohol and the brain
Alcohol consumption causes cognitive abnormalities because alcohol has amnesia-like effects. It impairs your ability to encode new memories, which is where the term ‘alcohol blackout’ comes into play. Although the effects of alcohol use include reduced short-term memory, it can affect other areas of memory in the brain as well, mimicking the symptoms of dementia, and because it targets higher-executive functioning of the brain, the impairment to an older adult’s cognitive capability is much higher.
Can you get better from alcoholic dementia symptoms?
Unlike Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia, alcohol-related ‘dementia’ is not certain to get worse over time. With the right treatment and support, there is often a good chance that it will stop getting worse or improve. For example, if the person stops drinking alcohol, takes high doses of thiamine, and starts eating a balanced diet. However, if the person keeps drinking alcohol and doesn’t eat well, alcohol-related ‘dementia’ is very likely to get worse.
It is not easy to help a person with alcohol addiction to stop drinking. However, it can be even more challenging when the person has alcohol-related ‘dementia’. Problems with thinking and reasoning (caused by dementia) can prevent a person from understanding that they need to stop drinking. They may also find it very difficult to stay motivated if they do stop drinking because losing motivation is one of the alcoholic dementia symptoms.
Treatment for alcoholic dementia
The first part of treatment usually lasts up to several weeks. It aims to stop the person from drinking alcohol and make their health more stable. Most people with alcohol-related ‘dementia’ will need to stay in hospital for this.
Alcohol withdrawal usually causes a person to have delirium, which can make them easily distracted and confused, disorientated, and prone to mood swings. They may also experience intense sweating, anxiety, and a high heart rate. They may become agitated or hallucinate. They may be treated with drugs that mimic the effect of alcohol on the brain to reduce withdrawal symptoms. These drugs can be safely reduced slowly. The person will also be given fluids and salts, and high doses of thiamine (vitamin B1) by injection.
As well as medication, the person will need a lot of non-drug support. This often includes counseling or talking therapies that help them to stay alcohol-free. They may also be encouraged to attend self-help groups once they are out of the hospital. Find links to support and resources Some of the common alcoholic dementia symptoms may make it harder for a person to take part in an alcohol treatment program. These symptoms can include denial, lack of insight, and being impulsive. The person may struggle to stay focused during therapy sessions.
How long does treatment take for alcoholic dementia?
Many people with alcoholic dementia symptoms have to wait in the hospital for a long time before they can get specialist care. Depending on how serious their condition is, they could be supported in residential care, sheltered accommodation, or in their own home – with support in the community.
Support for alcohol-related dementia
After the first part of treatment, a person with alcohol-related ‘dementia’ will need support from different kinds of services. Firstly, the person is likely to need support to help them stop drinking alcohol. They may be given special prescription drugs to reduce their craving for alcohol. They will also need to take high-dose thiamine (vitamin B1) tablets and eat a healthy, balanced diet, and have counseling or talking therapies’.
Getting the right care for alcoholic dementia symptoms
A professional who has experience in supporting people with alcoholic dementia should be involved in the person’s care. The type of support they get will depend on the person’s individual situation and what they need. People with alcohol-related ‘dementia’ tend to be younger and physically more active than most people who have other types of dementia. They may benefit from services designed for people with young-onset dementia.
Staying alcohol-free can be particularly challenging if the person is homeless or isolated from their family due to drinking too much, or if they have poor physical or mental health. Dealing with all these issues is important for helping the person to stay alcohol-free, and to reduce the alcoholic dementia symptoms.
Support for carers, friends and family
Supporting a person with alcohol-related ‘dementia’ can be challenging for their carer, friends, and family. They will need different kinds of support, which may not always be easy to access. Most alcohol support services are designed to help people stop drinking and stay sober and there may sometimes be less immediate support available to deal with the dementia-related parts of rehabilitation. However, many support services have a ‘complex needs’ team which are better equipped to support the different needs of someone with alcohol-related ‘dementia’.
Reclaim Your Life From Alcoholic Dementia Symptoms
Alcoholic dementia symptoms can be very serious and can be prevented by an alcohol rehabilitation program for people with alcohol abuse disorders. We Level Up California can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from alcoholism with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.