The Link Between the Rise in Dementia and Substance Use

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A study in Psychopharmacology in 2016 showed that FES helped people remember event-based tasks, but not time-based tasks. Alcohol tends to affect short-term or prospective memory more often. How Long Can You Live With Cirrhosis? Prospective memory is day-to-day brain function, specifically, remembering to complete daily activities. You can avoid short-term memory loss by removing alcohol from the equation.

A severe depressive episode, particularly in older adults, can result in cognitive impairment. In fact, there is a condition called pseudodementia in which a person appears to have the behavioral and cognitive changes seen in dementia, but severe depression is the root cause. With the appropriate depression treatment, the signs of dementia disappear.

Every older adult in treatment at Caron has a primary substance use disorder, most commonly for alcohol, followed closely by opioids and benzodiazepines. As I said, part of our initial evaluation process involves screening every new older adult patient for cognitive impairment. We ask patients to complete a standardized set of tasks that every adult, regardless of their age, is expected to be able to perform with ease. This measure is called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) and the maximum score is 30. In people with young-onset dementia (who are younger than 65 years old) ARBD affects about one in eight people. It is likely – for a wide range of reasons – that the condition is under-diagnosed.

Research shows that heavy alcohol use can damage short- and long-term memory and affect brain structure. There may be ways to lessen alcohol’s effects on memory by reducing the amount of alcohol consumed and by using memory techniques to overcome memory loss issues. Consider a person who has never abused a prescription medication in their life, but they are prescribed opioids for a chronic pain condition. Overtime, their body adjusts to the opioids, and they begin to experience withdrawal symptoms as the medication wears off. This may increase anxiety and make it difficult to sleep, so drugs like Xanax, Ativan, or Ambien are prescribed.

A doctor may consider other causes of the symptoms if the person does not show any signs of improvement. An individual may also need assistive technology and other modifications to help them with everyday tasks. Experts recommend that screeners check anyone with memory loss for alcohol use. However, there is still much yet to be elucidated concerning specific molecular mechanisms of how alcohol affects memory formation. However, many support services have a ‘complex needs’ team which are better equipped to support the different needs of someone with alcohol-related ‘dementia’. For people who drink daily and heavily, there isn’t always a safe or moderate amount of alcohol consumed.

After the first part of treatment, a person with alcohol-related ‘dementia’ will need support from different kinds of services. They may be treated with drugs that mimic the effect of alcohol on the brain to reduce  withdrawal symptoms. The person will also be given fluids and salts, and high doses of thiamine (vitamin B1) by injection. A person with alcohol-related ‘dementia’ may be unsteady on their feet and more likely to fall over – even when they are sober. This is because alcohol damages the part of the brain that controls balance, co-ordination and posture. The person may have memory loss and difficulty thinking things through.

How Alcohol Is Linked to Memory Loss

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome typically presents with three main areas of symptoms. It can affect several areas of the brain, but it most commonly affects the mammillary bodies found on the hypothalamus. This article reviews what alcohol-related dementia is, its possible causes, symptoms, treatment, and more. It is likely that a person will need a brain scan to rule out other causes of their symptoms. These include a stroke, a bleed caused by physical trauma, or a tumour. By Buddy T

Buddy T is a writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.

  • But heavy drinking, even occasionally, can have harmful effects.
  • Some of the common symptoms of alcohol-related ‘dementia’ may make it harder for a person to take part in an alcohol treatment programme.
  • However, there is still much yet to be elucidated concerning specific molecular mechanisms of how alcohol affects memory formation.
  • If the person is still addicted to alcohol, treatment for the addiction is the first step, and many forms of help are available.
  • This means that over months and years they have a higher risk of malnutrition, including a lack of vitamins such as thiamine (vitamin B1).

This increases the risk of falls, car crashes, and other accidents. As you grow older, health problems or prescribed medicines may require that you drink less alcohol or avoid it completely. You may also notice that your body’s reaction to alcohol is different than before. Some older people feel the effects of alcohol more strongly without increasing the amount they drink.

By some accounts, popular culture makes light of the memory problems that can result from alcohol consumption. Songs such as Waking Up in Vegas by Katy Perry[66] and Last Name by Carrie Underwood[67] also depict characters waking up and not remembering the night before due to alcohol consumption. In addition to alcohol the characters were also under the influence of flunitrazepam. Because denial is common, you may feel like you don’t have a problem with drinking. You might not recognize how much you drink or how many problems in your life are related to alcohol use. Listen to relatives, friends or co-workers when they ask you to examine your drinking habits or to seek help.

If you focus on the information that you’re trying to remember, you’re more likely to recall it later. It also might help to connect what you’re trying to remember to a favorite song or a familiar saying or idea. Perhaps you misplace your car keys or forget the name of a person you just met. There are several approaches available for treating alcohol problems. Some tests can be performed by a doctor to rule out other causes of neurologic symptoms.

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