Alcoholic Dementia Symptoms, Stages, Diagnosis, Life Expectancy & Treatment
What is Alcohol Induced Dementia?
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism , alcoholism is associated with extensive cognitive problems, including alcoholic dementia. Alcoholic dementia is a type of alcohol-related brain damage, and it can mean a few different things. It can refer to brain damage resulting from the deterioration of brain cells caused by severe, long-term drinking, it most commonly refers to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) or “wet brain .”
Although different health issues can cause wet brain, it is common among people who struggle with alcohol addiction . Wet brain results from brain and nerve damage from years of vitamin B1 deficiency, which can lead to learning disabilities and severe memory problems. Alcohol-induced dementia is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition that needs immediate alcoholism treatment.
If someone has alcohol-related dementia they will struggle with day-to-day duties. 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.
Alcohol-induced dementia often looks very similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Because alcohol’s effects on cognition, brain disorders, and brain chemistry share some features with Alzheimer’s disease effects on these three areas, The two disorders appear similar in terms of memory and increasing cognitive problems. While Alzheimer’s almost exclusively results in permanent damage, alcoholic dementia has more mixed results when it comes to reversing symptoms. Improvement in cognitive function, or at least the lack of a progressive cognitive deficit, is one of the major factors used to determine whether a person has alcoholic dementia rather than Alzheimer’s disease.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe different syndromes of impaired brain functioning, which may include symptoms of a decline in thinking and reasoning abilities, and memory loss. The neurodegenerative disease processes that underlie certain types of dementia are irreversible and progressive. There are several different forms of dementia, including:
Alzheimer’s disease — the most common neurodegenerative type of dementia among older people. It is thought to develop in association with certain types of brain changes, including pathological protein buildup known as amyloid plaques and tau tangles
Frontotemporal dementia — more rare than Alzheimer’s and most commonly affects people under age 60. It also is thought to develop in association with abnormal amounts or forms of proteins in the brain. This type is also neurodegenerative.
Lewy body dementia — this neurodegenerative type results from abnormal deposits of a protein known as Lewy bodies.
Vascular dementia — develops as a result of impaired blood flow to the brain or damage to blood vessels in the brain, such as from strokes or mini-strokes.
Mixed dementia — involves a combination of dementia types.
Early Stage Alcoholic Dementia Symptoms
The most common early-stage alcoholic dementia symptom is confusion, it is also the one that is spotted most easily. Sometimes losing short-term memory accompanies the confusion. It is worthwhile to note that skills developed during the person’s childhood are relatively unaffected.
Early-stage alcoholic dementia symptoms tend to vary from person to person as the alcohol damage isn’t exactly targeted. Brain scans show that different areas of the brain have shrunken for each individual. However, the frontal lobes are always affected. The Frontal lobe is responsible for actions like organizing, planning, initiation and self-monitoring. This is termed Frontal Lobe Dementia which is also caused by alcoholism. The symptoms of frontal lobe dementia include the loss of the above-mentioned skills. This shows there is a direct relationship between alcoholism and frontal lobe dementia.
Additionally, a common symptom is loss of short-term memory. People with alcohol-induced dementia tend to forget details of recent conversations, which may lead to difficulty in making sense of a situation. For instance, a person might have forgotten where their previous home was, which makes it hard for them to understand the events that took place during the time they spent in that home.
Another common symptom amongst these individuals is loss of balance which causes them to be unsteady on their feet even in a sober state. This happens because alcohol damages the part of the person’s brain (cerebellum) which controls posture, coordination, and balance.
Repeated alcohol abuse and depression related to dementia are some of the problematic behavioral changes. Other mood-related changes include irritability and apathy. These changes make it more difficult for the person to withdraw from alcohol abuse, and they can suffer from loss of communication and relationships due to their cold demeanor.
Alcohol Related Dementia Stages
The alcoholic dementia symptoms are varied, and this health condition can be influenced by two important factors such as Wernicke’s encephalopathy and the Korsakoff syndrome.
Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a health condition encountered in patients who lack a certain substance called thiamine. The thiamine deficiency is usually caused by excessive drinking as well as vomiting. If one abuses alcohol regularly, the body’s thiamine stores will get depleted fast.
The Korsakoff syndrome is a special type of condition which translates through frequent episodes of depression, confusion, inability to speak normally, memory problems, and others. Alcohol and dementia are strictly related in this case because too much alcohol prevents normal neurological functioning which leads to dementia, a serious brain condition that can affect people of all ages who abuse alcohol.
Acute Alcohol Intoxication
To clarify things, people who get tipsy once a week by having a few beers or glasses of wine with friends are less prone to develop common alcohol dementia stages. On the other hand, if one gets intoxicated with alcohol regularly (acute alcohol intoxication), has the symptoms of hangover almost daily, vomits frequently, and feels dizzy most of the time, this can lead to alcohol-related dementia.
Symptoms of Alcohol-Related Dementia
Symptoms include difficulties with:
- Staying focused on a task without becoming distracted
- Solving problems, planning and organizing
- 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 behavior may seem insensitive or uncaring).
The symptoms of alcohol-related ‘dementia’ 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 alcohol-related ‘dementia’ 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.
They 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.
Alcohol-related ‘dementia’ 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.
Alcohol Dementia Life Expectancy
The prognosis for alcoholic dementia symptoms is varied. With appropriate treatment, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that approximately 25% of people will recover completely, about half will improve but not regain full functioning, and about 25% will remain about the same.
Any improvement in functioning usually happens within the first two years after the alcoholic dementia symptoms began. Life expectancy may remain normal if the person does not drink alcohol.
According to the Merck Manuals, about 10%–20% of people with untreated Wernicke encephalopathy will not survive. However, with treatment, the prognosis of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is far superior when compared to that of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia whose declines are chronic and progressive, despite attempts of treatment.
Alcohol Related Dementia Diagnosis
A person can be diagnosed with alcohol-related ‘dementia’ if they have problems with memory, thinking or reasoning that severely affect their daily life, and are most likely to have been caused by drinking too much alcohol.
For a clear diagnosis, the person needs to have these symptoms even when they have stopped drinking and are not suffering from the effects of alcohol withdrawal. The doctor will also need to make sure that these symptoms don’t indicate another type of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia.
Alcoholic Dementia Symptoms Treatment
The best treatment for alcoholic dementia is total abstinence. If the person is still addicted to alcohol, treatment for the addiction is the first step, and many forms of help are available.
Alcohol addiction treatment begins with detoxification (or ‘detox’ for short). A variety of sedative drugs can help manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Medications used to treat alcohol addiction include:
- Topiramate (not FDA-approved)
- Baclofen (not FDA-approved)
Unlike other forms of dementia, evidence shows alcohol-induced dementia may be reversible by abstaining from alcohol. Some improvement has been seen in just one month of abstinence, with mild improvements after six months. However, in others, it may take several years. Speed and scale of recovery are affected by age and sex. And for some, full recovery may not be possible.
It is not easy to help a person with alcohol addiction to stop drinking. However, it can be even more challenging when the person shows alcoholic dementia symptoms. Problems with thinking and reasoning (caused by dementia) can prevent a person from understanding that they need to stop drinking.
During your rehabilitation, the staff from the We Level Up NJ treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction.
Please, do not try to detox on your own, especially if you show any alcoholic dementia symptoms. The detox process can be painful and difficult without medical assistance. It’s hard enough that you are struggling with alcoholic dementia. If you or someone you know is struggling with this condition, it is important to intervene early.