According to the Alzheimer’s Society, UK, Alcohol-related brain damage is a brain disorder caused by regularly drinking too much alcohol over several years. The term ARBD covers several different conditions including Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome and alcoholic dementia. None of these is actually dementia, but they may share similar symptoms.
ARBD is defined as long-term decline in memory or thinking caused by excessive alcohol use and a lack of vitamin B1 (thiamine). Thiamine is needed to provide energy to the body. It is especially important for brain and nerve cells because they use so much energy.
Alcohol misuse causes ARBD in a range of ways. Regular heavy drinking over time damages nerve cells because alcohol is a toxin. It also causes chemical changes in the brain and the shrinkage of brain tissue.
The second way that alcohol misuse leads to ARBD is by causing thiamine deficiency. This is partly because heavy drinkers tend to not look after themselves and have a poor diet. Alcohol also irritates the stomach lining, leading to vomiting and poor absorption of nutrients. Thiamine deficiency also happens because alcohol interferes with the way the body stores and handles the vitamin.
Alcohol can also cause ARBD through repeated head injuries. People who misuse alcohol are more prone to falls and getting into fights.
Finally, heavy drinking damages blood vessels and is linked to high blood pressure, raised cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. All of these conditions can damage the brain.
According to a study, published recently in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that regular consumption among older populations is on the rise.
“Given the larger number of Americans we are going to have (as the population ages), that’s going to increase the need for more public health programming,” said study author Rosalind Breslow, an epidemiologist at the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
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. It can also be caused by alcohol itself, especially in the later stages of dementia. Older adults who binge drank twice per month were 147 percent were more likely to experience cognitive decline and 146 percent more likely to have more memory problems compared to those who did not drink.
Families need to look for signs of alcohol misuse and seek help immediately. Besides the harm that older adults are causing to their own bodies, they should not be driving or causing any potential harm to other people because of their use of alcohol. Seeking treatment is essential and should not be taken lightly.
Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them.