We’ve been aware of alcohol’s effects on the body for a long time. It impacts almost all areas of the body including the heart, lungs, stomach, throat, pancreas, and liver. One thing that’s often overlooked, however, is alcohol’s effects on the brain. Most of us are aware that when we drink, our inhibitions are lowered and our memory is impacted. It’s common to make questionable choices when drunk or wake up the next morning with little-to-no recollection of what happened the night before when you’ve “overindulged.” But did you know that excess and regular alcohol use can have lasting effects on the way your brain works?
If you or someone you love is managing an alcohol use disorder, it can be uncomfortable to learn about its long-term side effects. But at SUN Behavioral Delaware, we want you to have a healthy and bright future. Today we’re talking about the symptoms of alcoholic dementia, a form of memory impairment caused by excessive alcoholism. Read on to learn what this is and how you can stop it from happening.
Alcoholic dementia is a type of alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD), which is an umbrella term for a myriad of brain injuries caused by excessive alcohol intake. One in ten people diagnosed with dementia has some form of ARBD. In other words, long-term alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a common cause of dementia.
This can seem scary if you’re managing alcohol use disorder, but it’s important to learn the symptoms of ARBD so you can make healthy changes if needed. Let’s talk about a few of the signs to look out for.
Dementia occurs after the age of 65 for most people, but if you’re living with AUD, you could notice signs much sooner. Early-onset dementia is more common in those who have a history of excessive alcohol use, so if this is you, it’s good to keep an eye out. Not everyone will experience the same symptoms of alcohol-related dementia, nor will everyone experience every symptom.
Here are some common signs to look out for:
Having one or more of these signs does not mean you have alcoholic dementia. However, it could mean it’s time to talk with your primary care provider.
Who gets alcoholic dementia? It isn’t everyone. In fact, most people who manage alcohol use disorder won’t experience ARBD. Things like diet and exercise may play a role, too. Overall brain health can also play a role. Think of alcohol as the match that lights the flame of dementia. If you’re already at risk, you’re more likely to get it. The best way to avoid alcoholic dementia is to create a healthier relationship with alcohol, and for many, this can only happen with treatment.
The prognosis of anyone with ARBD varies widely depending on the form of dementia and other lifestyle factors. ARBD can also cause other health problems, like issues with the heart and blood pressure, which can decrease life expectancy. For people with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, it tends to be around 8 years for half of the people diagnosed with it. The cessation of alcohol might improve your chances of healing.
Alcoholic dementia typically falls into two forms of ARBD: Korsakoff’s syndrome and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Both forms impact the learning, memory, and decision-making areas of the brain. These forms of ARBD are either caused by the effect of alcohol itself or vitamin deficiencies caused by alcohol, like a lack of thiamine or B vitamins. Regardless of the exact cause, the catalyst remains the same: excessive alcohol use.
Wernicke-Korsakoff is also known as “wet brain”, and it’s a form of ARBD that causes people to appear “permanently drunk”. People with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome often slur their speech, have issues with muscle coordination, and even experience hallucinations. While the condition might sound scary, the treatment for it is more effective than the treatment for other types of dementia. Wernicke-Korsakoff doesn’t need to be permanent. Treatment usually includes physical therapy and magnesium/thiamine supplements.
It’s easy to get caught up in fears surrounding your health when you’re managing an alcohol use disorder. The thought of alcoholic dementia is terrifying for some. Remember that just because it exists doesn’t mean you will get it – it simply means you’re at risk if you’re consuming large quantities of alcohol. You have the power to change your circumstances, and you don’t have to do it alone.
The stages of alcohol dementia can be broken down into three categories: early, middle, and end-stage. The earlier you can spot and address a health concern like this, the better your prognosis. Let’s talk about these stages so you know what to look out for.
It can be tricky to recognize the symptoms of the early stages of alcoholic dementia, and in many cases, it’s family members or friends who see it first. You may begin to forget things you wouldn’t normally forget. Making complex decisions may feel overwhelming. Expressing your feelings or recognizing your moods might also become difficult. There may even be subtle changes to your personality.
The middle stage of alcoholic dementia is a magnified version of the early stages. Symptoms like forgetfulness and difficulty with mood may increase and become more noticeable. Hallucinations also begin at this stage of development, so you may hear or see things that other people can’t.
The end stages of alcohol dementia often require round-the-clock care. You’ll have difficulty eating or bathing alone. Talking to friends or family isn’t really an option at this stage, as your communication will be impacted.
If you or someone you care about is living with alcohol use disorder, there’s good news: it’s reversible.
Alcoholic dementia isn’t something you’ll ever have to experience, especially with quality care. At SUN Behavioral Health Delaware, we know how difficult it can be to stop using alcohol – especially on your own. We want to help. We offer detox along with inpatient and outpatient care. We also offer a variety of mental health services.
During treatment, we’re not just working to heal your alcohol use disorder. We’re working to heal the whole person. Whatever it was that led you to alcohol in the first place, you can overcome it. We can help you identify and manage the triggers that are causing your alcohol use and move forward into a healthier, happier life.
SUN Behavioral Health Delaware works to solve the unmet needs of individuals and the community. If you or someone you love is ready to heal from alcohol use disorder, call us today at 302-604-5600 so we can help.
The symptoms of alcoholic dementia are reversible and usually require physical therapy and vitamin supplements.
Your doctor will perform a series of tests to see if you’re at risk for (or currently living with) alcoholic dementia.