Other Harmful Brain Effects Of Chronic Alcohol Use
Alcohol-related dementia isnt the only consequence of long-term alcohol use. By causing extensive damage to the brain, alcohol can either lead to mental health problems or worsen pre-existing conditions such as anxiety, depression, and bipolardisorders.
Alcohol is a dangerous and addictive substance with long-term consequences. Thankfully, most of these complications can be alleviated with early diagnosis and substance use treatment. If you have an alcohol problem, or if you suspect misuse in a loved one, find a health professional that can provide medical advice.
In this article
Strengths And Limitations Of This Study
Data in this study are disease-specific for Alzheimer’s disease . This gives us important knowledge on how a very common lifestyle factor such as alcohol affects the lives of people diagnosed with AD specifically.
Since extensive data were collected on each patient in the Danish Alzheimer’s Intervention Study study, we were able to adjust for a wide range of potential confounders, which is essential when studying the effects of alcohol consumption.
The results of this study are based on post hoc analysis, that is, the investigation of alcohol intake on mortality was not described in the original DAISY protocol.
In the alcohol groups, other than our reference group , the number of study participants was relatively low.
The participants in this study have been specifically selected for an intervention study and there might therefore be an over-representation of better functioning patients. Patients with more severe disease, those with significant comorbidity and patients living in a nursing home without a primary caregiver might have other effects of alcohol.
Iii Should Older People Drink Less Alcohol
Some writers urge that older people drink less alcohol. They think it would protect their bodies and minds. But Dr. Erik Skovenborg disagrees. He says people dont develop low alcohol tolerance when they turn 65. That idea is a myth based on plain ignorance, ageism prejudice and political correctness, mixed with a minuscule amount of facts.28
Fat doesnt absorb alcohol. Older bodies tend to have a lower proportion of water to fat as they age. Thus, the same amount of alcohol would lead to a higher BAC. So some people say older people should drink less.
But from age 20-29 to 70-79, mens total body water drops only 3.2%. The drop for women is even less. The increase in BAC would not be measurable on a Breathalyzer.
Some say older bodies dont break down alcohol as well as younger bodies. However, medical research does not support that belief.
The health and longevity benefits of moderate drinking become greater for older people. It may be more important for older people to drink.
Seniors Dont Drink Enough
Dr. Skovenborgs suggestion may actually be too conservative. The amount of alcohol most older people drink in the U.S. isnt enough to get its health benefits.
A government survey proves this. Only 55% of people aged 50 had even a single alcoholic drink in the previous month. And the proportion declined with increasing age. It dropped to half among those age 60-64. Then to only 40% among those 65 and older.
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Ensuring The Person Drinks Enough
- Encourage the person to drink throughout the day. The recommended amount is one and a half to two litres a day, which is around eight to 10 glasses or 10 to 13 cups per day.
- Have a drink on hand whenever the person is eating something.
- Use a clear glass so the person can see whats inside, or try a brightly coloured cup to draw attention instead.
- If possible, offer the person the cup or put it where they can see it clearly.
- Offer different types of drink throughout the day such as tea, coffee, hot and cold milky drinks, fruit juice or smoothies, soup, squash and water.
- Make sure the cup or glass is suitable not too heavy or a difficult shape.
- Encourage the person to eat foods that have a high liquid content, such as gravy, ice lollies, milk jellies and yoghurt.
- Nutritionists have created sweets called Jelly Drops®, which may help people with dementia consume more water.
How Much Did They Drink
No-one knows exactly. All we know is that they had alcohol use disorders which meant that their excessive drinking had become harmful and caused a serious health problem.
But we do know that drinking to this extent is likely to increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and heart failure, which can also increase the risk of dementia.
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Light To Moderate Amounts Of Alcohol
Moderate alcohol drinking is classified as drinking one alcoholic drink a day for women and two a day for men. Light drinking describes those who drink less than moderate drinkers but more than those who totally abstain from alcohol.
In a study that involved over 3000 adults over the age of 75, light to moderate drinking was associated with a 42% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and a 29% lower risk of all types of dementia.
One study found that among women who were over the age of 90, a decrease in alcohol consumption was associated with an increase in the development of mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
Another study considered how alcohol consumption affected people with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment . This study demonstrated that light to moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a decreased chance of mild cognitive impairment progressing into full dementia. Participants who never drank alcohol had a higher chance of developing dementia than those who were light to moderate drinkers, while heavy drinkers were the most likely to progress to dementia.
Some People Should Not Drink Alcohol
There are some people that should not drink alcohol. This group includes but is not limited to alcoholics, people with Wernicke-Korakoff syndrome, those taking certain medications that could negatively interact with alcohol, people with certain medical conditions such as liver disease and pancreatitis, those who are under the legal age to drink, women who are pregnant and those who are operating a vehicle or performing other complex tasks.
Other studies have found that drinking alcohol has other health risks thus, your decision to drink alcohol should be discussed with your healthcare provider.
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Drinking And Dementia: Is There A Link
Study Shows Drinkers With Genetic Predisposition to Alzheimer’s Disease at Higher Risk
Sept. 2, 2004 — Drinking alcohol in middle age may increase the risk of late-life dementia in people who are genetically predisposed to develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to findings from a Scandinavian study.
Researchers from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute reported that infrequent drinkers have a twofold increase in the risk of dementia in old age among carriers of a gene that has been linked to Alzheimer’s. Gene carriers who frequently drink had a threefold increase in risk.
But the findings also show a protective effect for infrequent drinkers who did not have the genetic risk factor. Low-risk teetotalers and frequent drinkers in the study were twice as likely to experience mild cognitive declines later in life as infrequent drinkers.
The findings are reported in the Sept. 4 issue of the BMJ .
“Earlier studies indicated that light to moderate drinking may be protective, but this study shows that the picture is much more complex,” researcher Miia Kivipelto, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. “The more people with this susceptibility gene drank, the more their risk for dementia increased.”
Can Alcohol Cause Dementia
People who do not binge drink or become dependent on alcohol do not need to worry about an alcohol-dementia link, says Nikola Djordjevic, MD. “Alcohol consumption in moderate amounts has not been found to cause dementia or any other cognitive impairments. However, excessive use and abuse in old age have been associated with changes in brain structure that increase the risk of Alzheimerâs and variants of dementia,” he explains.
A 2018 study found that heavy drinking increased the risk of dementia by about three times. Alcoholism may increase the risk of certain medical conditions that damage the cardiovascular system, including high blood pressure. Research increasingly links both heart disease and heart disease risk factors to an elevated risk of developing dementia.
Alcoholism may also cause a rare type of dementia called Korsakoff syndrome, according to The Alzheimer’s Association. This dementia appears when a person is deficient in thiamine/vitamin B1, a deficiency that is more prevalent among chronic alcoholics.
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What Happens When A Person With Dementia Drink Alcohol
Alcohol Consumption after Dementia
People who have a form of dementia, whether caused by alcohol use disorder or not, are likely to suffer more serious memory loss if they consume alcohol. In part, this is caused by reactions between dementia medications, other medications for other ailments, and alcohol.
Amount Of Alcohol Consumed Tied To Dementia Risk In Older Adults
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The amount of alcohol older adults consume affects their risk for dementia differently depending on whether they have mild cognitive impairment, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.
Our findings provide some reassurance that alcohol consumed within recommended limits was not associated with an elevated risk of dementia among older adults with normal cognition,Manja Koch, PhD, lead author of the study and a research associate in the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Healio Primary Care.
Nevertheless, physicians should provide individualized risk assessments when counseling patients about alcohol intake, she continued.
Researchers conducted a follow-up analysis of the Gingko Evaluation Memory Study, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial that included adults aged at least 72 years who did not have dementia at enrollment.
JAMA Network Open
Participants reported how often and what they drank at baseline and underwent cognitive and functional testing at baseline and every 6 months until the end of follow-up.
A total of 3,021 adults with a median age of 78 years were included in the study. Within the cohort, 473 patients had mild cognitive impairment at baseline and 2,548 did not.
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Understanding Alcohol Use And Dementia: From Diagnosis To Patient Education
An estimated 50 million people currently have dementia, and projected prevalence rates for the years 2030 and 2050 are 82 million and 152 million, respectively, according to the World Health Organization.1 This trend underscores the need to identify potentially modifiable risk factors to inform dementia prevention and treatment efforts. To that end, accumulating research is exploring the link between alcohol consumption and the risk of developing dementia.
While results vary across studies, findings consistently point to an elevated dementia risk with both high levels of alcohol intake and abstinence. A 2021 meta-analysis of 6 cohort studies demonstrated that the consumption of more than 14.0 alcoholic drinks per week was linked to a higher risk of progression to dementia .2
In a 2018 cohort study of 9,087 participants aged 35-55 years, analyses of trajectories from midlife to early old age revealed a higher risk for dementia with long-term abstinence from alcohol , reduced consumption , and long-term consumption of more than 14.0 drinks per week compared to long-term intake of 1.0-14.0 drinks per week.3
In research published in September 2019 in JAMA Network Open, Koch et al investigated the risk for dementia and cognitive decline in a cohort of 3,021 individuals with or without mild cognitive impairment who self-reported details regarding alcohol use.4
What does the evidence suggest thus far regarding the association between alcohol consumption and the risk for dementia?
Just The One Mrs Wembley
The issues surrounding alcohol have been abundant in my life I am the adult child of an alcoholic, have several significant alcoholics in my life, and sadly, have lost my best friend, Suzzie, due to alcohol. As a child, I grew up in a family where alcohol was abundant and the risks of drink were never discussed or considered. In my family, the just one referred to one bottle, rather than one glass.
The rate of people drinking alcohol has increased over the last ten years with an increase in the availability of cheap alcohol alongside the binge drinking culture. This is despite the constant flow of news reports highlighting the fact that excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing serious health problems, including dementia. For longer term drinkers and alcoholics, the reality of drying out to get a diagnosis can be difficult.
Pour Me Another One
Many people drink alcohol to relax or when socialising, but do we really know our limits, and if we do, does it worry us? The NHS states that men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week, and to spread those units out over three days, if you drink regularly. There is an average 9 units in a bottle of wine, so for some, it is easy to consume more than the desired weekly amount.
Are you glass half full or half empty?
Down the Hatch
One for the road
For more support with your drinking:
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Alcohol And Brain Health
Alcohol affects our brain on several levels. It affects the functioning of several neurotransmitters in our brain, which in turn can affect our behaviour and memory. Alcohol also impacts our cardiovascular health, which we know is important for our brain. Both factors not only impact our brain health but also are known to increase our risk for dementia. However, one factor that is particularly relevant for our brain health is that that alcohol also has a direct effect on our nerve cells by literally killing them, or to put it in scientific terms, alcohol is neurotoxic.
We all had the feeling after a hard night out that we must have lost some brain cells but that is not only a feeling but reality. Alcohol is known to be highly neurotoxicity, which means that it kills nerve cells when they are exposed to it. You might remember from my previous articles that the blood brain barrier is a key protective mechanism for the brain to protect itself from poisons or toxins. Does that blood brain barrier protect us from alcohol?
How about more standard alcohol consumption? Can it also increase our risk for dementia?
So Moderate Drinking Is Ok
The research is contradictory and so the answer isn’t straightforward.
Some research suggests that drinking one or two units of alcohol a day – particularly red wine – could be of benefit to brain health, but other scientists are more sceptical.
A study published on Thursday in the British Medical Journal found that moderate drinkers were at lowest risk of dementia, compared to heavy drinkers and non-drinkers, but this may be because they tend to lead generally healthy lives and are less likely to smoke or eat unhealthily.
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Is Alcoholic Dementia Treatable What Are The Options
The best treatment for alcoholic dementia is total abstinence. If the person is still addicted to alcohol, treatment for the addiction is the first step, and many forms of help are available.
Alcohol addiction treatment begins with detoxification . A variety of sedative drugs can help manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Medications used to treat alcohol addiction include:
Alcohol Dementia Life Expectancy
With appropriate treatment, the Alzheimers Association estimates that approximately 25% of people will recover completely, about half will improve but not regain full functioning, and about 25% will remain about the same.
Any improvement in functioning usually occurs within the first two years after the symptoms began.
Life expectancy may remain normal if the person does not drink alcohol.
According to the Merck Manuals, about 10%20% of people with untreated Wernicke encephalopathy will not survive. However, with treatment, the prognosis of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is far superior when compared to that of Alzheimers disease and other types of dementia whose declines are chronic and progressive, despite attempts of treatment.
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Abstaining From Alcohol Was Also Associated With Increased Risk
If you’re thinking of giving up alcohol entirely to protect your cognitive faculties as you age, you may want to reconsider. According to the BMJ study’s authors, teetotalers were at a higher risk of developing dementia than those who drank in moderation.
However, the study’s authors posited that it wasn’t just the lack of alcohol that contributed to abstainers’ increased dementia risk. “Multistate models showed that part of the excess risk of dementia in abstainers was attributable to the greater risk of cardiometabolic disease in this group,” the study’s authors explained.
Alcohol Related Dementia Diagnosis
Examination of the nervous/muscular system may show damage to many nerve systems:
- Abnormal eye movement
- Muscle weakness and atrophy
- Problems with walk and coordination
The person may appear poorly nourished. The following tests are used to check a persons nutrition level:
- Serum albumin
- Serum vitamin B1 levels
- Transketolase activity in red blood cells
Liver enzymes may be high in people with a history of long-term alcohol abuse, alcohol-related liver diseases are the other worst consequences of drinking alcohol.
Other conditions that may cause vitamin B1 deficiency include:
- Cancers that have spread throughout the body
- Extreme nausea and vomiting during pregnancy
- Heart failure
- Long periods of intravenous therapy without receiving thiamine supplements
- Long-term dialysis
- Very high thyroid hormone levels
A brain MRI may show changes in the tissue of the brain. But if Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is suspected, treatment should start immediately. Usually a brain MRI exam is not needed.
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Potential Complications Of Alcoholic Dementia
Unless a person stops drinking alcohol, alcohol-related dementia only worsens with time. It can lead to permanent brain damage which consequently, causes them to cease normal functioning.
People with severe dementia symptoms might not be able to:
- Care for themselves
- Perform basic activities
- Recognize friends or family members
- Communicate what they think or feel
- Follow instruction
- Find their way around places
These can lead to complications that reduce a person’s quality of life, such as:
Some types of alcohol dementia cause a person to lose their sense of smell and taste. As food becomes tasteless and they are left to fend for themselves, they might not eat as often, or they might not eat at all. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies, which further aggravate their condition.
Keep in mind that dementia severely affects memory. For example, a person with dementia might not remember what food is for or how to use a spoon.
2. Harm to self and others
A person with severe dementia may suffer from mood swings and a confused mental state, so they are easily agitated. Since they cant make sense of things, situations can quickly escalate into violence where they might hurt themselves or others.
3. Accidental injuries
Alcoholic dementia increases the risk for falls by 2 to 8 times.11 This can be a problem for elderly individuals with degenerative bone disorders. Falls can easily cause fractures if they have osteoporosis or osteoarthritis.