Alcohol Awareness Week – Alcohol & Dementia

Alcohol, do we know the facts?

Every day our services see the impact of hazardous, dangerous and dependent alcohol consumption – they see lives severely affected by addiction, its health and social impacts and the devastating harm it causes to families and relationships.  However, our services work to change this.

Educating people on the dangers of hazardous alcohol consumption can make a big difference and help stop lives being blighted by addiction.  This week is Alcohol Awareness Week, with the particular theme of alcohol and its relation to health.  Each day we will be sharing facts and information about alcohol and its influencing role in many health issues – read on and share and promote these messages.

Alcohol and Dementia

Alcohol is a neurotoxin and damages the neurons and blood vessels in the brain, causing them to shrink. This prevents enough oxygen reaching the brain and parts of the brain subsequently die. Alcohol also damages the lining of the stomach and intestines, disrupting a healthy diet and the absorption of nutrients. Thiamine (vitamin B1) is vital for brain function. Heavy drinking can result in severe thiamine deficiency. The cognitive deficits can be so severe, it is known as ‘alcohol-related dementia’.

The most common type of alcohol-related dementia is Wernicke-Korsakoff’s Syndrome. This illness has different stages, getting worse with sustained heavy drinking. Initial and precursor symptoms of Wernicke’s Syndrome include being underweight, involuntary eye movements/ paralysis of the eyes, poor balance/ disorientation and mild memory loss. This develops into Wernicke-Korsakoff’s Syndrome, which includes severe short term memory loss, personality changes and memory confabulation. Treatment is abstinence, high doses of thiamine and support. Over time with treatment, symptoms can improve.

Stats

  • Around 0.5% of people in the UK have some changes to their brain resulting from alcohol.
  • 35% of heavy drinkers have some form of alcohol-related brain damage.
  • Men who drink 4 units a day over 10 years age at a much higher rate than non/light-drinkers. Brain capacity naturally declines with age, but the brains of men who drink regularly appear between 1.5 and 5.7 years older than their healthier counterparts.
  • Alcohol-related brain damage accounts for 10% – 24% of all cases of dementia.
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff’s Syndrome is found in 12% of dependent drinkers.

Raising Awareness

It is clear that alcohol consumption contributes to the development of dementia. One of the best ways to reduce the risk of people developing alcohol-related dementia is to limit alcohol consumption and raise awareness of the link amongst the wider public.

As a charity dealing with these issues every day, we are the experts by experience – we see the results of alcohol dependence, but importantly, work to rectify them.  We are committed to raising awareness of the dangers of hazardous alcohol consumption, preventing addiction and ensuring people are aware of the risks.

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