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Monday, Mar 30, 2015

Alcohol related dementia often misdiagnosed


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It’s a well-known fact that alcohol abuse has a negative effect on cells at the front of the brain. The temporary result can be impaired judgment, poor decision-making and inappropriate behavior. Prolonged misuse can lead to dementia.

Alcohol related dementia (ARD) is known to deplete vitamin B-1 (thiamine,) creating short-term memory loss. This creates damage to the frontal lobes of the brain. If heavy drinkers realized this, perhaps they would ask their local bartender for a shot of B-1 on the side.

ADR often is misdiagnosed because it mimics so many other types of dementia. A common problem is that patients often are not honest with their physicians about how much alcohol they ingest. And because alcohol is a depressant, it can lead to a diagnosis of depression. The result is that many patients never are properly screened for dementia.

On a positive note, ADR is one of the few dementias that are reversible if caught early. Abstinence from alcohol for 60 days or so and a healthy diet with vitamin replacement therapy prescribed by a doctor can help patients regain some of their cognitive abilities. I must stress this only is in cases that are caught early on.

ARD also can be known as “wet brain” or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. In cases of wet brain, the loss of thiamine is more severe and damages areas of the brain that control short-term memory. These patients still may have adequate long-term memory.

Alcohol abuse also can damage nerves in the arms and legs as well as the cerebellum, which affects coordination and motor control. This leaves people unsteady on their feet, even when they are sober.

The onset of ARD can occur as early as age 30, but normally shows up between the ages of 50 and 70. The onset and the severity of the dementia directly relates to the amount of alcohol consumed throughout a lifetime.

The message: Don’t overindulge. If a friend or loved one shows signs of dementia and has been a heavy drinker all of their life, tell their doctor.

The medical profession still is in the learning stages when it comes to correctly diagnosing dementia-related diseases, but it are getting better. For now, a person’s background and medical history are crucial diagnostic tools for any physician.

For a decade Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. He can be reached at His newly released book, “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors,” and his other books, “While I Still Can” and the expanded edition of “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness,” can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving .com.

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