Alcohol and Dementia
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a clinical term that is used to describe an array of symptoms:
It is a devastating condition as the diseases that cause dementia are progressive and unrelenting. It manifests by impacting the individual with the condition's ability to think and function on a normal level. The types of dementia are:
Alzheimer's Disease - often used interchangeably with dementia, Alzheimer's is the leading cause of dementia and is a neurodegenerative disease.
Vascular Dementia - this is when blood to the brain is reduced or stopped as a result of an injury or stroke. This reduced blood supply causes progressive damage to brain regions resulting in dementia symptoms.
Lewy Bodies Dementia - closely related to Parkinson's disease, this type of dementia is characterised by minute structures which are abnormal, forming inside brain cells.
Frontotemporal Dementia (Pick's Disease) - this type mainly affects younger individuals, and is associated with damage to brain cells in the frontal and temporal lobe brain regions.
Is there a cure?
There are currently no treatments that are known to effectively prevent, cure or treat dementia. This makes dementia one of the leading causes of death in the UK. Accounting for 1 in 8 of all deaths each year. Critically and most worryingly the numbers are increasing. This is in contrast to other major causes of death in the UK, including cancer, stroke and heart disease that have all experienced a fall in the number of deaths related to these conditions.
It is for this reason research into the causes of the disease and any potential cures is so important.
The Link with Alcohol
The medical journal The Lancet has just published an article about the largest study ever performed on a national level looking into dementia risk factors. The study observed over one million adults that were diagnosed with dementia in France, specifically early onset dementia. The study specifically focussed on the effect of alcohol use related disorders. The findings were enlightening as they highlighted the impact that chronic drinking can have on the brain and the likelihood of developing early onset dementia. Out of the 57000 cases of early onset dementia over 50% (57%) were linked to excessive drinking.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines chronic heavy drinking as 4-5 drinks per day for men and 3 drinks for women. The authors of this research have since suggested that it would be advisable to screen for chronic drinking periodically amongst the population as a way to minimise the risk of this risk factor playing such a significant affect on underage deaths in those suffering from excessive alcohol consumption. Excessive alcohol consumption is thought to shorten lives by 20 years and with the reasons for these deaths being significantly associated with dementia, combating this problem will go someway to helping with the global dementia issue.
Michaël Schwarzinger, Bruce G Pollock, Omer S M Hasan, Carole Dufouil, Prof Jürgen Rehm, QalyDays Study Group. Contribution of alcohol use disorders to the burden of dementia in France 2008–13: a nationwide retrospective cohort study. The Lancet Public Health, 2018 DOI: 10.1016/S2468-2667(18)30022-7