Alcohol has been linked to many physical health problems – but is it linked to Alzheimer’s Disease, or dementia?
Alzheimer’s can be a difficult disease to manage, not only for the person with the disease but for their loved ones too. You may be wondering if alcohol can increase the chance of developing Alzheimer’s, or whether there are links between the two.
This is what we are going to explore on this page. Read on to learn more about the links between alcohol and Alzheimer’s disease, and to find out whether alcohol can cause dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder and is the most common cause of dementia among elderly people.
In most people with late-onset Alzheimer’s, symptoms begin to present in their 60’s – however, people can have early-onset Alzheimer’s too. With early-onset Alzheimers, symptoms can present in a person’s 30s.
This brain disorder slowly affects memory and thinking skills, and as the disease progresses, it can impact a person’s ability to complete simple everyday tasks and live a functioning life.
Alzheimer’s disease is named after Dr Alois Alzheimer, the person who first identified the disease. Back in 1906, he noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman that died of mental illness.
Some of the woman’s symptoms included language problems, unpredictable behaviour, and memory loss.
Dr Alois Alzheier examined her brain and found amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary (essentially abnormal clumps and tangled brain fibres).
Alzheimer’s can change the brain in many ways – however, the main features of Alzheimer’s are:
Neurons transmit messages through the brain, as well as from the brain to your body’s organs and muscles.
Alzheimer’s can prevent these messages from being sent, affecting how your brain and bodywork. Your memory can also be affected – areas of the brain such as the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex are affected by the disease.
As the disease progresses, it affects the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is responsible for reasoning, social behaviour, and language.
We provide personalised support and resources for addiction recovery. Take the first step towards a brighter future today.
Vascular dementia is caused by multiple brain-affecting diseases – Alzheimer’s being the most common. However, some other forms of dementia include vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies.
Dementia is not technically a disease, but instead, a name for a group of symptoms that include problems with memory and thinking, perception, language, and problem-solving – resulting from changes in the brain’s blood vessels.
Both brain function and cognition can be affected by the number of these vascular changes, as well as the size and location of the changes.
Vascular dementia can cause a range of symptoms that can occur both gradually or suddenly, progressing over time.
Somebody can have vascular dementia alone, or have it as part of another diagnosis – such as Alzheimer’s disease. Vascular dementia symptoms are comorbid with Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Scientists and medical professionals are continually unravelling the changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s, as well as how the disease progresses.
It is thought that Alzheimer’s-related damage to the brain typically begins a decade or so before problems related to memory and other cognitive abilities appear.
In the very early stages of the disease, a person may appear to have no symptoms – but the changes in the brain are occurring.
The very first symptoms of Alzheimer’s can vary from person to person, but typically, the first warning signs include memory problems – as well as impaired judgement or reasoning, vision issues, spatial issues, and word-finding.
Alzheimer’s symptoms are typically divided into three stages – early symptoms, middle-stage symptoms, and later symptoms – or mild, moderate, and severe.
The early stage symptoms are generally considered mild, whereas the later symptoms are usually on the severe end of the spectrum.
The early stages of Alzheimer’s disease typically involve memory lapses. This can include a variety of signs and symptoms – for example:
As well as this, somebody with early-stage Alzheimer’s may also undergo mood changes. This can include periods of confusion, agitation, and increased anxiety.
As the disease progresses, the symptoms will increase in severity – including memory problems. It may become harder and harder to remember words, names, places, and people.
As well as trouble remembering the actual words, people with middle-stage Alzheimer’s may also struggle to recognise people they know, including family members and friends.
A person with middle-stage symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease may also display signs of vascular dementia.
Some more moderate symptoms of Alzheimer’s include sleep problems (e.g disturbed sleep), which can impact a person’s general well-being.
A person may undergo mood changes and mood swings, including frustration and agitation. They may also experience mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
Some other symptoms that may develop include:
People with moderate Alzheimer’s disease will often need additional support with everyday tasks such as eating, washing, and using the toilet. Often, people may benefit from having a carer or live-in family members.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s become more severe as the disease progresses. This can not only be distressing for the person with the disease but their loved ones and carers too.
A person with late Alzheimer’s may undergo drastic personality changes, and may not appear like the same person they once were. They may become violent, or have strong hallucinations and extreme paranoia.
They may also have trouble eating without assistance, or swallowing – this is known as dysphagia.
Because of this, they will often need full-time care with eating, personal care, and moving. They may also lose lots of weight and become severely underweight.
A person with severe Alzheimer’s may also:
The age-standardised mortality rate in England in regards to dementia and Alzheimer’s was 115.4 per 100,000 people.
Although it is possible to live for several years after you develop Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, the life expectancy can vary from person to person. It is a life-limiting illness.
However, many people with the disease may die from other causes, albeit causes related to or caused by Alzheimer’s.
Although the NHS guidelines recommend that you drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week spread across three or more days (e.g six medium glasses of wine or pints of 4% beer), there is no level of drinking that is considered safe.
Excessive drinking can have many negative effects, both physical effects and mental effects/ psychological effects. It can affect your organs and take its toll on your mental health.
Alcohol abuse or binge drinking can also increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorder – which can affect all areas of your life, including your finances, relationships, career, and general well-being.
It is now believed that excessive alcohol consumption may also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Alcoholic dementia (known as wet brain syndrome or Korsakoff syndrome) is a well-known phenomenon – as alcohol interferes with your brain functioning – more specifically, your brain’s chemistry.
Several studies have explored the links between alcohol and dementia – and found that excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing dementia.
A study with 9087 participants examined the links between alcohol consumption and the risk of dementia. 397 of these people developed dementia over a follow-up of around 23 years.
The study found that the risk of dementia increased in those who abstained from alcohol in their midlife or consumed over 14 units of alcohol per week.
These findings encourage the revision of these guidelines to promote cognitive health in old age and prevent cognitive decline.
The study found that long-term alcohol exposure, over the limit of 14 units per week, increased the risk of dementia by 50% in comparison to long-term moderate alcohol intake / moderate alcohol consumption(between one and 14 units per week).
Alcohol-related dementia is a form of brain damage caused by alcohol (ARBD/ alcohol-related brain damage). This means that a person may struggle with everyday tasks and memory loss due to the brain damage caused by long-term excessive drinking.
A person with ARBD may experience problems with complex tasks (e.g finances or work), as well as everyday tasks such as cooking and cleaning.
Drinking heavily over a long period can affect the brain, leading to brain damage. If you drink heavily, you may be more likely to have a reduced amount of white matter in the brain – which sends signals around the brain.
This ultimately affects how your brain works. In the long term, drinking too much can also lead to a lack of vitamin thiamine B1 – and can lead to Korsakoff’s Syndrome. This is a memory disorder that affects short-term memories.
Alcohol-related dementia has many symptoms, For example, trouble solving problems and organising, as well as difficulty maintaining focus on a task – getting easily distracted.
A person with ARBD may also struggle to set goals or make decisions, as they may experience poor judgement. Everyday tasks, including essential tasks such as eating, can be difficult.
ARBD can also lead to mood swings – personality changes and behavioural changes. For example, irritability and aggression, or mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.
Another symptom of dementia caused by alcohol can include difficulty understanding how others are feeling, or what they’re thinking. They may appear insensitive.
That being said, ARBD symptoms can vary from person to person. Some areas of the brain will shrink more than others, although alcohol typically affects the brain’s frontal lobes.
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is possible to support somebody with the disease, and help them to live with their condition – whether it be in the form of medical support (e.g drug treatments) or live-in care.
The recommended support for dementia and Alzheimer’s often depends on whether the disease is mild, moderate, or severe.
Some drugs that may be prescribed for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s include donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine – which are cholinesterase inhibitors. These drugs may control or reduce certain cognitive and behavioural symptoms.
Different drugs may be prescribed as the disease progresses from mild to severe. Memetamine is believed to help regulate glutamate levels – a chemical in the brain.
Too much glutamate can lead to brain cell death. It is often prescribed to decrease the symptoms, allowing people to continue living functional life for longer. It may help to prevent the disease from progressing for a few months.
If you think a loved one may be displaying signs of Alzheimer’s, it’s important they speak with a medical professional about their diagnosis.
It can also help to speak to a therapist, psychiatrist, or mental health professional. There are also dementia advisers that can help with dementia-specific symptoms.
If you think you may have a problem with alcohol (e.g alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder), then it’s important that you get your alcohol consumption under control. Drinking alcohol can have many negative effects, including an increased risk of dementia.
You don’t have to deal with addiction alone – there is help and support out there for you. At Help4Addiction, we can find the right rehab centre and treatment plan for you and your circumstances.
Rehab for alcoholism can come in many forms – for example, inpatient rehab/ residential rehab, outpatient rehab, private rehab, or NHS-operated rehab.
Rehab treatment usually begins with detox (detoxification) and moves on to therapy. Once you have completed rehab, you can move on to secondary treatment – additional support throughout your recovery. Aftercare can include group therapy or support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Contact our friendly team today to learn more about the alcohol addiction treatment process, whether it be for yourself or a loved one.
Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.
Receive a callback, we’re ready to help you get on the road to recovery.
Don’t hesitate to reach out – we’re here to provide the support you deserve, anytime, day or night.