As of 2002, the United States Department of Health and Human Services reported an estimated 22 million Americans were classified as alcohol dependent, aged 12 years old and older. Its prevalence reaches across all ethnic and socioeconomic lines. Those who've indulged in excess drinking over a number of years run the risk of developing alcohol dementia.
Alcohol dementia is a condition caused by excessive, long term alcohol consumption that results in problems with memory, learning and cognitive skills. Also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndorme, this condition involves brain cell damage that is further exacerbated by malnutrition brought on by poor eating habits. The syndrome is actually two syndromes in one where Wernicke's disease has to do with cell damage within the brain and spinal chord, and throughout other areas of the body. Korsakoff syndrome is a psychosis in which damage to nerve cells gives rise to problems with memory, intellect and cognitive skills. Vitamin B-1 deficiencies are present as a result of the poor eating habits that normally accompany excess alcohol use.
The effects of alcohol dementia result from the poisonous effect that alcohol has on nerve cells within the central nervous system. Once absorbed into the bloodstream, it's effects are most prominent within the brain and the liver. As the liver is responsible metabolizing alcohol, excess consumption can lead to liver failure. Damage to the liver also contributes to the effects alcohol has in the brain. In addition to poor nutrition habits, the body's ability to absorb vitamin B1 is further hampered by excessive drinking. This vitamin is essential for nerve cell health. Neurotransmitter processes within the brain become altered as a result of excess consumption, leading to permanent damage that remains long after a person has stopped drinking.
Unlike dementia disorders caused by Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, recovery from alcohol-induced dementia is possible when consumption is stopped. Abstinence prevents the condition from getting progressively worse, however damage that's already occurred may be irreversible. Signs of damage typically appear in the form of not being able to learn new things, problems with reasoning, poor judgment, and in some cases, changes in a person's overall personality can occur. Confusion, frustration and problems with remembering past events are the most prominent signs of brain damage. Symptoms of excess alcohol use can be seen in the tendency to say the same thing over and over again whether it be asking a question, telling a story, or in conversation. When this happens, the person is completely unaware that they've repeated themselves several times over.
Personality changes, communication problems, disorientation, and the inability to solve everyday problems are the most common symptoms of alcohol dementia. Personality changes may include paranoia, fear of being alone, mood swings, a lack of overall emotional response or anger. Communication problems can take the form of difficulty with using, or finding words, or not being able to follow along in a conversation. Disorientation may appear in not being able to keep track of time, not being able to recognize familiar people, or getting lost in familiar places. Difficulties with problem-solving may involve not being able to do familiar tasks, being unable to make decisions, or problems with making connections between people and events.
Treating a person during the early stages of alcohol dementia greatly increases her chance for recovery. Abstaining from alcohol use and eating a balanced diet are necessary to rebuild the body's functioning level. Vitamin B1 supplements are also recommended to replenish the nerve cells in the brain. The treatment of any existing medical conditions, such as hypoxia (decreased oxygen circulation), infections, depression, anemia or any psychiatric conditions will further improve a person's recovery process. Ultimately, treatment approaches focus on managing the symptoms of the illness. As of yet, no specific medications or techniques exist to treat the effects of alcohol dementia. Support groups and therapy are needed to help persons readjust to everyday life.