Alcoholism and Short Term Memory Loss

Alcoholism and Short-term Memory Loss

Regularly drinking copious amounts of alcohol doesn’t just cause you to forget what you did the night before, drinking alcoholically can cause constant short-term memory loss. This brain disorder is called Korsakoff’s syndrome and is present in people who drink alcoholically.

Why do people get Korsakoff’s?

Korsakoff’s is a brain disorder brought on by a lack of thiamine, which is known as ‘vitamin B1’. Thiamine is a co-factor, meaning ‘helper molecule’. It is required by three enzymes involved in two pathway of carbohydrate metabolism. The products of these particular pathways are necessary for the regeneration of molecules inside our bodies cells. A lack of thiamine interferes with numerous cellular functions affecting the nervous system and brain resulting in the Korsakoff syndrome.

Korsakoff’s syndrome is mainly obtained by people with alcohol dependency issues for these reasons:

  • People who drink alcoholically tend to have poor diets resulting in a lack of nutrients such as vitamin B1
  • Heavy alcohol intake can inflame the lining of the stomach and give people ulcers. This causes regular vomiting. Therefore the body struggles to absorb essential vitamins
  • Thiamine needs to form into ‘Thiamine pyrophosphate’ in order to aid the regeneration of cells, alcohol interferes with this vital conversion process

Korsakoff’s syndrome is part of the condition known as ‘Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome’. Below, is the symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy, which is then followed by Korsakoff’s syndrome:

  • The person looks generally unhealthy and underweight due to their lack of nutrients
  • Rapid eye movement or frequent paralysis of the eye muscles
  • The cerebellum is affected; therefore the person may have poor balance, resulting in accidents
  • General confusion, disorientation and memory loss

Unfortunately, if these symptoms are ignored, and no treatment has been implemented, the effects of this syndrome will permanently damage the brain and can sometimes result in death. However, if treatment occurs in good time, the effects of this syndrome can be reversed. To effectively treat these symptoms, a high dose of thiamine is injected into the patient, and the symptoms will cease in a few days.

Korsakoff syndrome follows Wernicke-korsakoff syndrome, giving patients symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty holding new information in the brain and learning new skills
  • Change of personality such as showing a lack of concern for their well being or anyone else’s or becoming hyperactive and overly talkative
  • Ignorant of the illness they are developing due to a lack of memory of their symptoms
  • ‘Filling in gaps’ because the person can’t remember what actually happened during those gaps

A person is diagnosed through a physical and mental examination, lab tests and the consideration of family health history. If a person has been diagnosed with Korsakoff’s, unlike similar memory loss diseases such as Alzheimer’s, the person has a chance of recovery. Recovery is only feasible if the person:

  • Safety detoxifies themselves from alcohol
  • Remains abstinent (absolutely no alcohol consumption again)
  • Continues a high dose of thiamine
  • Starts and continues a healthy, nutritional diet

Most people recover and can continue to live by themselves if they strictly abide by those rules above, unfortunately for some, it is too late, and they will require continuous residential care throughout their life.

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