Seven Facts About Alcohol and Dementia
Alcohol is thought to be a potential contributor dementia and other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Here are seven interesting facts about alcohol and dementia.
1. Drinking too much alcohol causes damage to the cerebellum (also known as the little brain) area. The cerebellum is the structure that looks like a cauliflower at the base of the brain beneath the cerebrum. The cerebellum contains hundreds of millions of neurons that process data and relay information. It controls motor movement coordination, balance and muscle tone. Alcohol abuse over a long period of time may lead to permanent loss of coordination. It can cause blood pressure and blood cholesterol to rise damaging the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. This can cause vascular dementia.
2. Information as to the long-term effects of mild to moderate alcohol intake is less straight forward. Many scientists believe that there is no compelling evidence of an alcohol related dementia as such. Scientists point to related disorders common amongst alcoholics such as head injuries, seizures, vitamin deficiencies such as thiamine deficiency, liver damage causing hepatic encephalopathy, and smoking that can all lead to dramatic damage to the brain. The concept of alcohol dementia is controversial because of the difficulty of separating the role of alcohol from these other conditions that cannot be directly linked with neuropathologic findings. However there is no doubt that chronic alcohol abusers have a much increased incidence of dementia.
3. It is possible that alcohol limits the brain’s cognitive reserves to resist diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Older people are at risk of abusing alcohol in three key areas. Retirement, death of a spouse, and being diagnosed with a major illness can all up elders alcohol intake.
Alcohol can be good too. The compound resveratrol has been widely promoted as good for our hearts and brains. Found in the skins of red grapes a number of studies have linked moderate wine consumption (that’s one unit per day for women and slightly more for men) to certain health benefits.
6. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and it alters our brain chemistry to the extent that it can lead todepression and suicidal thoughts.
7. Even mild to moderate intake of alcohol can increase anxiety, disturbed behavior and confusion in people with dementia.
Christine Kennard wrote about Alzheimer’s for HealthCentral. She has many years of experience in private and public sector nursing care homes for people with dementia. She has worked in a variety of hospital, public and private health settings and specialized in community nursing. Christine is qualified in group analytic psychotherapy, is registered in general and mental health nursing and has a Masters degree.