Understanding Alcohol-Induced Dementia

Alzheimer's disease, dementia, and other mental disabilities all offer significant health implications for seniors, but those caused by extensive alcohol use, dubbed "alcohol-induced dementia" or "alcohol-related dementia," are the most complex and toughest to manage. Additionally, it is an increasingly prevalent kind of dementia.

According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, one in every eight Americans struggles with an alcohol disorder, and seniors have seen the greatest increase in alcohol consumption over the previous decade.

Alcohol-Induced Dementia

Alcohol-related dementia is a form of alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD). 

If a person has alcohol-related dementia, they will have difficulty performing daily tasks. This is due to the damage to their brains caused by years of excessive alcohol consumption.

The individual may suffer from memory loss and have difficulty reasoning. They may struggle with more complicated duties, such as financial management. The symptoms may cause difficulties with regular activities. For instance, the individual may lose the ability to prepare a meal.

Symptoms Of ARBD

Symptoms include difficulty with the following:

  • Maintaining complete concentration on a task without being distracted
  • Resolving issues, planning ahead, and organizing
  • Establishing objectives, making judgments, and selecting choices
  • Motivating oneself to complete tasks or activities (even basic ones like eating or drinking) — they may lose control of their emotions and become angry or have outbursts.
  • Comprehending how other people think or feel (their behavior may seem insensitive or indifferent)

The symptoms of alcohol-related dementia vary considerably between individuals. When a person with the disorder undergoes a brain scan, it is frequently discovered that certain parts of the brain have shrunk significantly more than others. Moreover, alcohol has a significant effect on the brain's frontal lobes.

Assessment And Diagnosis

Alcohol-induced dementia can be extremely difficult to diagnose. If a doctor is unaware that a patient has consumed an excessive amount of alcohol over an extended period of time, they may overlook it as a potential diagnosis. One may not receive the appropriate treatment and assistance, which is why it is critical to inform doctors about excessive alcohol consumption.

An elderly can be diagnosed with alcohol-related dementia if they exhibit significant difficulties with memory, thinking, or reasoning that are most likely the result of excessive alcohol consumption.

To make a conclusive diagnosis, the senior must exhibit these symptoms even when they have stopped drinking alcohol and are not experiencing the consequences of alcohol withdrawal. Additionally, the doctor must determine whether these symptoms are consistent with another type of dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia.

Treatments For Alcohol-Related Dementia

The initial phase of treatment often lasts several weeks. It seeks to free the individual from alcohol and stabilize their health. The majority of patients with alcohol-related dementia will require hospitalization for this.

Alcohol withdrawal typically results in delirium, which can leave a person easily distracted and confused, disoriented, and susceptible to mood swings. Additionally, they may experience excessive sweating, anxiousness, and a rapid heart rate. They could become irritated or have hallucinations.

They may be treated with medications that have a similar impact on the brain to alcohol in order to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. These medications can be gradually tapered off safely. Moreover, the individual will receive fluids and salts, as well as large doses of thiamine (vitamin B1) by injection.

Talking Therapies

Along with medications, your senior loved one will require extensive non-drug support. This frequently includes counseling or 'talking therapies' that assist people in remaining sober. They may also be encouraged to participate in self-help groups once they have been discharged from the hospital. 

Certain signs of alcohol-induced dementia may make it more difficult for an individual to participate in an alcohol treatment program. These signs include denial, a lack of insight, and impulsive behavior. The individual may have difficulty maintaining focus throughout therapy sessions.

Support For Caregivers, Friends, and Family

Supporting a senior loved one who suffers from alcohol-related dementia can be difficult on their caregiver, friends, and family. They will require a lot of possible types of assistance, which may not always be readily available.

The majority of alcohol support services are designed to assist individuals in quitting drinking and becoming clean, and there may be less immediate support available to assist with dementia-related aspects of rehabilitation.

Many support programs, however, include a 'complex needs' staff that is better suited to address the diverse needs of someone with alcohol-related dementia.

Want to familiarize yourself with the common behaviors of dementia patients? Read this article from SeniorStrong.

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William Rivers is an editor with a master’s degree in Human Services Counseling at Maine State University. He has more than 20 years of experience working in the senior healthcare industry.
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