Chronic alcohol abuse can result in a number of health problems, including a condition known as alcoholic dementia. This condition is similar to Alzheimer’s disease and can severely impact a person’s memory, cognition, and learning abilities. Individuals who abuse or are addicted to alcohol may need to seek treatment – such as through an inpatient program offered by Vertava Health – to avoid developing alcoholic dementia.

What Is Alcoholic Dementia?

Alcohol directly affects the brain and how it functions. Chronic alcohol abuse can damage brain cells and interfere with a person’s ability to make decisions and use his or her judgment. Additionally, many people who drink heavily over an extended period of time experience problems with nutrition as a result of alcohol consumption and poor eating habits. All of these factors can contribute to the development of alcoholic dementia.

Alcoholic dementia shares many similarities with Alzheimer’s disease, including a decline in cognitive function and memory. Also like Alzheimer’s disease, alcoholic dementia is often irreversible once the condition has set in.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Alcoholic dementia can cause a condition known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This syndrome consists of two different disorders: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff psychosis.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy occurs as a result of a thiamine deficiency in the body. Thiamine, or vitamin B1, is responsible for helping the body convert food into energy. When too little thiamine is present in the body, brain cells cannot create enough energy to properly function. Wernicke’s encephalopathy can cause damage to various parts of the brain and can be deadly if not treated promptly.

Korsakoff psychosis is caused by the damage done to the brain as a result of Wernicke’s encephalopathy. The primary symptoms of this condition are significant impairment in memory and cognitive function. Nerve damage is also a symptom of Korsakoff psychosis.

Alcoholic dementia and the conditions it can cause often result in permanent brain damage. This means that people who experience these conditions will often not be able to reverse the damage caused despite quitting drinking.

Alcoholic Dementia Symptoms

There are several symptoms that accompany alcoholic dementia. The most obvious and often earliest symptom is confusion. People may also experience significant short-term memory problems that begin in the early stages of alcoholic dementia.

As the disease progresses, individuals will experience worsening symptoms of alcoholic dementia. Each condition related to alcoholic dementia will cause different symptoms.

Symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy may include:

  • drooping eyelids
  • the back-and-forth movement of the eyes
  • disorientation
  • confusion
  • the trouble with or loss of muscle coordination
  • alcohol withdrawal symptoms

If Wernicke encephalopathy is suspected, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. Left untreated, this condition can result in coma or even death.

Symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome may include:

  • loss of memory
  • trouble learning new things
  • confabulation (making up stories)
  • hallucinations
  • difficulty or inability to form new memories

Additional symptoms of alcoholic dementia may include:

  • impulsive behavior
  • trouble concentrating
  • difficulty making decisions or planning ahead
  • trouble controlling emotions
  • repeating things over and over again

Signs and symptoms of alcoholic dementia and the conditions it may cause often come on gradually. This can make it difficult to determine if a person is experiencing these conditions until it’s too late. However, there are several tests that can be done if alcoholic dementia is suspected.

Testing And Treatment For Alcoholic Dementia

There are several medical tests that can be performed to help determine if a person has alcoholic dementia. Examining a person’s nervous and muscular system can help shed light on any nerve damage caused by alcoholic dementia. Many physicians will also administer blood tests to test a person’s nutrition levels.

Tests that may be used to diagnose alcoholic dementia include:

  • nervous/muscular system testing, such as looking for abnormal eye movement, increased pulse, muscle weakness, and low blood pressure
  • blood testing to detect vitamin B1 levels and transketolase activity
  • liver enzyme testing

If alcoholic dementia is detected and still in the early stages, significant improvement may be made through treatment. Quitting drinking is often the first step in treating this condition. Additionally, thiamine may be administered to improve eye movement and vision problems, confusion, and muscle coordination.

Improvement can take several weeks or months to be felt, and many people will remain in the hospital or treatment facility until their major symptoms subside. Individuals who have been diagnosed with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome may never regain complete cognitive function.

Seeking Help For Alcohol Abuse And Addiction

The best way to prevent alcoholic dementia and other health complications related to chronic alcohol abuse is to seek treatment for alcohol addiction. While this decision can be difficult, it can quite literally save your life and improve your overall health and wellbeing. Vertava Health offers a variety of treatment programs catered to helping individuals overcome alcohol use disorders.

To learn more about alcoholic dementia and the alcohol addiction treatment programs we offer, contact an Vertava Health’ treatment specialist today.