Alcoholic dementia is a mental disorder characterized by confusion, inability to remember things that happened a short time ago, inability to make connections and decisions, difficulties finding words and following conversations, getting lost, being unable to recognize familiar people and undergoing certain personality changes. Alcoholic dementia can resemble Alzheimer’s disease, Wernicke’s Syndrome or Korsakoff’s Syndrome, and this leads to a risk of misdiagnoses – especially if patients aren’t honest about their alcohol intake.
One key difference in diagnosing elderly patients is that those with Alzheimer’s disease get progressively worse every year on tests of cognition and memory. However, patients with alcoholic dementia can achieve improvements if they stop drinking. Alcoholic dementia is the third most common cause of intellectual loss in elderly people.
Heavy use of alcohol for many years causes damage to the nerves in their arms and legs, as well as brain damage, especially in the cerebrum which controls muscular coordination. Once this occurs, people become prone to falls and lose the ability to perform complex motor tasks.
Alcoholic dementia can result in negative personality traits such as irritability, hostility and apathy that can be difficult for family members to manage. Because these patients cannot learn new things, they can become hostile and set in their ways. Damage to the frontal lobes can produce symptoms similar to apathy and depression.
While many patients with alcoholic dementia stabilize or even improve with good treatment and abstinence from alcohol, others do not and continue to lose intellectual capacity for reasons not completely understood. Some patients respond to medication such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines.