A new study of more than one million people with dementia in France has raised further concerns about the part alcohol may play in the development of early onset dementia.
The study, which took five years and examined people over the aged of 20 who had been discharged from hospitals across France, found those hospitalised with alcohol dependence or a health issue caused by continuous heavy drinking had a strong risk factor – three times greater than other people's – for the progressive brain condition, especially in the under-65s.
Early-onset dementia, defined as dementia that occurs before the age of 65, accounted for 57,000 cases revealed in the participants. Of those, 57 per cent were related to chronic heavy drinking.
As a result, the study’s authors, led by Dr Michaël Schwarzinger, are suggesting that screening, brief interventions for heavy drinking, and treatment for alcohol use disorders should be implemented to reduce the alcohol-attributable burden of dementia.
Darren Pitcher, Care UK’s lead quality development manager for the South of England, agrees it is not just a growing problem in France. He said: “The number of people in our care homes with alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD), Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome or alcoholic dementia is small. But it is growing each year and the numbers will probably increase as more practitioners become aware and diagnoses increase.”
Friends and family often become aware there is an issue with an individual, as common traits begin to appear more frequently. Darren added: “People living with alcohol-related brain conditions cannot maintain conversations. You will start to chat feeling that you are on the same page but it soon becomes apparent to you that you are not.
“They begin to struggle with simple tasks such as telling the time, organising themselves and dressing, and there may be issues with short term memory and memory lapses, as well as poor balance.”
But it is not just those with the condition who suffer. Darren continued: “The saddest thing is for the families. If a grandparent in their eighties has dementia we feel sad, but we come to terms with it. But to have a parent in their fifties diagnosed with the condition can be heart-breaking. All the time that someone is an alcoholic the family hopes that rehabilitation will work and their liver will repair. With dementia that repair to the brain cannot happen and any hope for the family that a level of normality will return goes.”
This is where Care UK Residential Care Services can help. Darren explained: “We work with residents to uncover their life stories and the things that are important to them. By finding out about someone’s interests and hobbies, and by learning about their history, we can find ways to communicate. This helps us to keep that rapport going with loved ones and team members alike. It also means that our lifestyle coordinators can devise activities that are of interest to a person of 55 rather than a group of residents in their nineties.”