The Sobering Truth About Alcoholic Dementia
Have you noticed that you or someone you love has memory problems, getting facts wrong, or has a hard time concentrating in order to learn new things? We all forget little things like appointments, or someone’s name from time-to-time, and our concentration levels ebb and flow, depending on what’s on our minds at any given moment.
But if heavy alcohol consumption is at play and these symptoms become more frequent, they may be the result of the effects of alcohol — and you or a loved one could be suffering from Alcohol-Related Dementia (ARD).
Studies have been conducted on heavy alcohol use and the strong correlation with forms of dementia, including alcohol-related dementia. In fact, one study showed between 10 to 24 percent of people who abused alcohol had high rates of dementia.
Read on to learn more about the form of dementia not talked about enough — alcohol-related dementia. Learn the facts, symptoms to watch for, and how you can get help for yourself, or for someone you love.
Is Alcohol-Related Dementia Real?
Most people have heard of the term, “dementia,” but may not be aware of the term, “alcohol-related dementia” or understand what it means. First off, alcohol-related dementia is a real health condition.
Some other forms of dementia have causes that are unknown, but alcohol-related dementia is known to be a direct result of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol for prolonged periods of time.
ARD causes damage to the brain, and can prompt cognitive impairment, with some people exhibiting a steady cognitive decline, especially for people who continue to abuse alcohol. The damage is the product of years of heavy drinking, and can be diagnosed by a trained medical professional.
Alcoholic Dementia Impacts Young and Old
When people hear the word dementia, images of the elderly likely come to mind, but the sad truth is dementia affects younger people too. Dementia doesn’t discriminate when it comes to age, and you may find it surprising that dementia from alcohol abuse can affect people as young as 40 to 50 years old.
There are other forms of dementia, and all have some similarities, and all are attributed to damage to parts of the brain. The longer someone engages in heavy drinking, the more they put themselves at risk for ARD.
Alcoholic dementia affects both the young and the old. Although the average age is 40 to 50 for ARD, heavy drinking can cause ARD in people of any age.
Symptoms of Alcohol-Related Dementia
You may be wondering if you or someone you love has shown signs of alcohol-related dementia. If excessive alcohol consumption is part of the history, you’ll want to be on high alert to watch for symptoms in yourself or someone else.
Pay attention if you notice the following symptoms, combined with heavy drinking:
If you’re finding that you consistently have a hard time remembering events, people, or reminders, this could be a sign of ARD.
Sometimes people notice declining cognitive functioning within themselves, and other times, friends, colleagues, or family members will pick up on signs of cognitive decline. This can look like not being able to store or recall facts or other information that would otherwise be easy to recall. Overall feelings of confusion or feeling lost can be a result of ARD.
Attention spans can be impacted, and it may seem like the processing speed of the brain is slowed down, foggy, or impaired — because it might be. If people around you have noticed these symptoms and called your attention to it, or you’ve caught glimpses of this yourself, don’t chalk it up to getting older. A bigger problem may need addressed with your drinking.
You may know that health conditions, such as alzheimer’s disease, and other types of dementia can cause a person’s personality to change, affect their moods, and impact the way they interact socially. The same is true for alcohol-related dementia.
If people have told you that you’re not acting like yourself, even when you’re sober, this could be a sign that ARD is having an effect on your personality.
You may be asking, what is confabulation? It’s when a person makes up stories about events, people, or places that are not true and did not happen as a result of damage to the brain.
Contrary to what it may seem, people who are affected by this are not liars making up grandiose stories. In fact, the reason people do this is to make up for gaps in their memory as a way to compensate, and it's been proven that it’s unintentional.
Confabulation can be extremely confusing for the individual, and for friends and family who don’t understand. If you’ve received feedback from the people closest to you about this, you may want to seek out a medical professional.
Although there isn’t a test made specifically to test for this, a trained professional can test your memory with a series of questions to see if the memories you have are not reality, but in fact, confabulations. This can be common with someone who has alcohol-related dementia.
Abnormal Eye Movements
If someone has commented and asked about your eye movement, this could be a red flag. Abnormal eye movements can include the inability to follow objects with your eyes and may feel like you’ve lost eye control temporarily, at times.
This can be caused by a condition known as Wernicke's Encephalopathy. It’s not always caused by excessive prolonged alcohol abuse, but more often than not, alcohol-related dementia is a root cause.
Inability To Learn New Things
Have you gotten frustrated when trying to learn something new, set something up that had directions, or had a difficult time concentrating? This is a symptom of ARD, due to the impact alcohol has had on your brain, and a result of damage that’s been done.
You may notice this deficiency in yourself at work or in a home setting. In less common cases, young people notice this in school if they have a history of years of heavy drinking as an early teenager.
Who Is at Risk for Alcohol-Related Dementia?
Heavy drinkers create habits that can have a snowball effect on their health. They increase their risk factors for a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.
The risk for alcohol-related dementia is a less talked about consequence of alcohol abuse, but who is at risk for developing alcohol-related dementia?
Occasional social drinking doesn’t make you more at risk for ARD. People who engage in high levels of alcohol intake over long periods of time are the ones who are at risk for alcohol-related brain damage that can lead to ARD.
Statistically, men over the age of 45 are more likely to develop ARD in terms of risk groups. This doesn’t mean that women can’t get ARD, but they are less likely to develop it statistically. Behavior such as binge drinking alcoholic beverages can increase the risk for ARD.
Unfortunately, many people who engage in alcohol misuse don’t realize their potential risk for memory loss and cognitive decline. If you’re doing research for you, or for someone else, you’re not alone — consider joining an online sobriety community to get support and gain knowledge.
Is Alcohol-Related Dementia Treatable?
There’s no cure for alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, but the good news is that you can get treatment for alcohol-related dementia. With the right treatment option, you can potentially reverse the damaging effects of ARD.
Getting into alcohol addiction treatment may be the best path for you. You can consider inpatient and outpatient options, as well as a support group, such as Sober Sidekick. It’s an app with more than 150,000 people, available 24/7.
When your goal is sobriety, other forms of self-care that can aid in your body and mind healing is eating a balanced diet, getting medical advice about supplements to address potential deficiencies.
How Alcohol-Related Dementia Can Impact Your Life
Quality of life can be seriously impacted by alcohol-induced dementia. Aside from health problems that alcohol substance abuse can cause, every aspect of your life can be downgraded.
If you’ve reached the point where you have alcohol-related dementia, your mental health has been negatively impacted, relationships can be in jeopardy, and your performance at work or school can be affected.
Essentially, everything can start to feel harder than it should. Things that were once easy can feel like a chore, and your self-esteem can be impacted. But there are options, and you are not alone.
Alcohol-related dementia is a real condition that affects people in a variety of ways, including cognitive impairment, memory loss, and, at times, changes in personality. Be aware of the risk factors of alcohol-related dementia so you can understand the warning signs.
If you or someone you love is starting a sobriety journey, don’t do it alone — get help and support with Sober Sidekick — the app that’s always with you.
Download the Sober Sidekick app today!
Alcohol-related dementia: an update of the evidence | NIH
Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD): what is it and who gets it? | Alzheimer’s Society