While there are many health risks connected to alcohol abuse, alcohol-induced dementia is particularly grim. Also known as Korsakoff syndrome, alcohol-induced dementia is often the result of a chronic thiamine deficiency that causes changes in the brain that affect memory. The following are important facts to know about alcohol abuse and dementia.
Thiamine Deficiency Can Lead to Wernicke Encephalopathy
Alcohol-induced dementia is most commonly due to prolonged thiamine deficiency. Thiamine is also known as vitamin B1, and it’s responsible for helping brain cells obtain energy from blood glucose.
If a person doesn’t have enough thiamine, their brain cells can’t work properly. This causes a severe reaction known as Wernicke encephalopathy. Symptoms of this condition include confusion, poor coordination and eye movements that a person doesn’t control.
Doctors don’t know exactly how Wernicke encephalopathy and the Korsakoff syndrome that can follow it cause brain damage. They theorize the damage from the lack of thiamine can cause microscopic bleeding that destroys brain tissue.
Alcohol-Induced Dementia Can Cause Confabulation
One symptom of Korsakoff syndrome is confabulation. This is where a person will make up information because they can’t remember it. A person who experiences confabulation isn’t lying on purpose, but actually believes the information they are sharing is accurate.
Head Injuries Can Lead to Alcohol-Induced Dementia
Another contributing factor to alcohol-induced dementia is frequent falls due to alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, those who abuse alcohol are more likely to experience falls and get into fights. Both of these can cause head trauma that damages the brain.
Alcohol Itself Can Poison the Brain
Alcohol acts like a toxin in the body. When the body is frequently exposed to alcohol, the nerve cells in the brain can become damaged and shrink. This is different from thiamine deficiency in that alcohol directly damages the brain cells.
Alcohol-Induced Dementia Affects People at a Younger Age
Most people experience dementia or diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease when they are age 65 or older. Sadly, alcohol-induced dementia tends to affect people at a much younger age. According to the UK Alzheimer’s Society, those with alcohol-induced dementia tend to be ages 40 to 50. Sometimes, a person can experience this dementia type at an even younger age.
Women Are Affected Sooner
Women are more likely to experience alcohol-induced dementia at a younger age than men. Women are also more likely to experience dementia from drinking alcohol when abusing alcohol for a shorter time period than men. However, men still experience alcohol-induced dementia in greater numbers than women.
Fighting Back Against Alcohol-Induced Dementia
In addition to risks for dementia, those who abuse alcohol are also at greater risk for diseases such as cancer, heart disease and liver disease. It is important that anyone who is struggling with alcohol abuse seek medical treatment to help them overcome their disease. Doing so could not only save their life, it can also save their memories and mental health.