The Complicated Relationship Between Alcohol & Dementia Care

The Complicated Relationship Between Alcohol & Dementia Care

As any memory care provider can tell you, there’s nothing simple about dementia care, treatment, and diagnosis. Certain factors, however, can make dementia care even more complicated than usual.  The Complicated Relationship Between Alcohol & Dementia Care
Alcohol is a perfect example. Heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk of dementias such as Alzheimer’s, but it can also lead to brain damage that mimics symptoms of dementia. This results in countless cases where dementia is misdiagnosed as alcohol-related brain damage, or where alcohol-related brain damage is misdiagnosed as dementia.
The situation is complicated further by the effects of alcohol intoxication, which itself mimics symptoms of dementia. As a result, family members and friends can easily misinterpret signs of drunkenness as sign of dementia or misinterpret signs of a dementia as signs of drunkenness.
If you suspect that a loved one’s use of alcohol is masking or contributing to cognitive decline, you might be confused about whether they need medical attention, addiction treatment, dementia care, or a combination of the above. Here’s a closer look at what may be causing your loved one’s cognitive difficulties, along with next steps you can take.

Understanding Alcohol & Dementia

Heavy consumption of alcohol is linked with a host of health problems, including cognitive impairment and decline. From a dementia care perspective, three conditions are particularly concerning: alcohol-related dementia, alcohol-related brain damage, and Korsakoff’s syndrome. These are conditions that include dementia or that are easily mistaken for dementia.

  • Heavy alcohol consumption is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, such as vascular dementia. Alcohol is linked with compromised cardiovascular health, which is a major risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease and the need for dementia care. Individuals who drink heavily also tend to lead unhealthy lifestyles in terms of diet and exercise, which further increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
  • Alcohol also increases the risk of brain damage. Brain injuries, for example, are more common among heavy drinkers, who are more likely to suffer falls and get into fights. In these situations, alcohol can indirectly lead to long-term brain damage. Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) can also occur directly. Alcohol is a toxin which, over time, causes nerve damage and reduction in grey matter. The result is sometimes referred to as alcoholic dementia, though it isn’t technically considered a type of dementia. Despite this, many dementia care providers include ARBD as one of the conditions they provide care services for.
  • Korsakoff’s syndrome is a common condition among individuals who suffer from alcohol dependency, though less common than alcoholic dementia. Korsakoff’s is caused by a lack of thiamine, also known as vitamin B1. Insufficient levels of thiamine can result in damage to important brain centers, including regions of the brain responsible for short-term memory. Korsakoff’s syndrome most typically occurs after Wernicke’s encephalopathy, which is triggered in alcoholics by sudden withdrawal from alcohol. As with ARBD, many dementia care providers will cover Korsakoff’s syndrome as part of their services.

So how can you tell if your loved one is developing dementia, alcohol-related brain damage, or Korsakoff’s syndrome? One sign may be the age at which they begin to show signs of decline. Signs of ARBD typically occur before the age of 55, whereas most cases of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia occur after the age of 65.
Another sign may be the type of cognitive difficulties your loved one is experiencing. In cases of Korsakoff’s syndrome is usually limited to short-term memory and the ability to make new memories, whereas ARBD and dementia typically have a wider range of cognitive and behavioral symptoms.
Ultimately, the best way to tell is to have your loved one examined by a medical professional. In cases of dementia or brain damage, it’s critical that you seek advice from medical experts, who will provide advice about whether to seek out dementia care, emergency treatment, and/or addiction treatment.
Do you have a loved one in need of dementia care? If so, we invite you to contact your local Visiting Angels® for information on dementia care services in your area. Simply call 800-365-4189 or contact your local Visiting Angels office to learn more.
 
Note: Visiting Angels does not provide medical care. All information contained in this article should be considered advisory only. If you are concerned about a loved one’s health, please contact their health care professional.

The Complicated Relationship Between Alcohol & Dementia Care

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About the Author

Richard Bitner

Visiting Angels is a national, private duty network of senior care agencies. We are proud to be the nation’s leading provider of non-medical at home care services. With our elder care services, seniors can remain independent and live safely at home. Our senior care services include Social Care, Dementia Care, Alzheimer’s Care, End of Life Care, Companion Care, Private Duty Care, care to prevent hospital readmission, and so much more.

Compassionate, dignified at home senior care is close to home when you connect with your local Visiting Angels office by calling 800-365-4189.

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