Tag Archive | alcohol abuse

Confabulation, Alcohol Abuse, and Alcohol-Related Dementia

Confabulation breaks trustOne of the lifelong struggles we, as human beings, do – or should be doing – battle with is being consistently honest both with ourselves (I submit this may be the hardest part of this battle because our capacity for self-deception seems to have no limits) and with others.

I have written here before about the interconnected relationship between honesty and trust. When we are dishonest with someone, we break their trust. Continue reading

Profiles in Dementia: Robin Williams (1951 – 2014)

Robin Williams in "Good Morning, Vietnam"Robin Williams was a man of great intellectual depth and many diverse talents. He burst on the scene as the quirky, but engaging Mork on the TV series Mork and Mindy in the late 1970’s. It was clear even then that his talent was bigger than the small screen could contain, and he quickly made the transition to the big screen in films that brought him great acclaim (Dead Poet’s SocietyAwakeningsGood Morning, Vietnam, and What Dreams May Come, to name a few) as a serious actor, writer, and producer. 

Williams, a graduate of Julliard, began his career as a stand-up comedian. His style was unique: rapid-fire, insightful, and always extremely funny with the undercoating of serious truths lying just beneath the humor.

Early in Williams’ career, he battled the same demons of drug and alcohol abuse that seem to disproportionately haunt the most talented among us mere mortals. He successfully overcame both, but I am inclined to believe that the years of substance abuse were a contributing factor to his development of Lewy Body dementia in the couple of years of his life.

Williams’ widow, Sharon Schneider Williams, recently wrote an essay (published in the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology) describing her husband’s last year as Lewy Body dementia consumed his brain.

Robin Williams in his last year of lifeIt is hard at times to read (I saw many things there that I saw in my own mom’s Lewy Body dementia), but it captures the essence of Lewy Body dementia in real time in a way I have not seen described before.

Robin Williams, unable to continue to humanly fight the unseen, but increasingly-threatening terrorist that had permanently taken his brain hostage, took his own life on August 11, 2014.

The Layperson’s Guide to Alcohol-Related Dementia

pouring-shots-alcohol-related-dementia

In “Lifestyle Dementia: Underdiscussed, Overlooked, But a Very Real and Present Danger,” and “Is the Precipitous Rise in Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease Over the Last Twenty to Thirty Years Linked to Lifestyle?,” we see that certain lifestyle factors and choices can make the likelihood of developing dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease more probable.

Two lifestyle factors that can contribute to the development of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease – and the onset of these is usually before age 65 – are chronic, long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism. This type of dementia is called alcohol-related dementia and can manifest itself in various forms.

This post will take a look at how chronic, long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism affects the brain and what the behaviors and symptoms of the dementia looks like.

We all know that drinking enough alcohol at one time impairs the brain. Common symptoms include slurring words, exhibiting general motor impairment, including stumbling and walking off-balance, making poor decisions (like driving, for example), being less able to hear sound at a normal volume, experiencing vision problems, and being unable to think clearly. 

These behaviors occur because alcohol depresses the central nervous system , causing it to slow down its responses and reactions. The brain stem (made up of the Pons, Medulla, and Midbrain), which regulates breathing, heart rate, lifestyle dementia alcohol related going gentle into that good nightand consciousness, as well all other areas of the brain are affected by alcohol:

  • Frontal – involved in movement, problem-solving, concentrating, thinking, mood, behavior, and personality
  • Temporal – involved in hearing, language, and memory
  • Parietal – involved in sensation awareness, language, perception, attention, and body awareness 
  • Occipital – involved in vision and perception
  • Cerebellum – involved in posture, balance, and coordination of movement

Chronic, long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism have even more devastating – and permanent – effects on the brain, eventually leading to alcohol-related dementia.

Usually the first noticeable symptoms of chronic, long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism are cognitive. Memory loss is common, but a unique feature of memory loss with people who are chronic, long-term alcohol abusers or alcoholics is confabulation.

Confabulation occurs when, instead of recalling accurate memories because of the damage to the brain, the person distorts, makes up, and misinterprets memories about themselves, others, and the world around them.

As difficult as it is to believe for those on the receiving end of confabulation, there is no conscious intent to be dishonest. It is simply the result of extensive neurological damage.

One of the most challenging aspects of people who confabulate is that although they are giving blatantly false information, the information can appear to be coherent, internally consistent, and relatively normal.

People who confabulate have incorrect memories that run the gambit from slight, almost imperceptible changes to the most outlandish made-up stories you can imagine.

The maddening thing about this is that they generally very confident – to the point of arguing down anyone (because they know the memory is fabricated) who tries to correct or challenge them – about their recollections, despite overwhelming concrete evidence that contradicts them.

Other signs of alcohol-related dementia emerge as:

  1. Inappropriate behavior, including words and actions
  2. Loss of executive function, including organizing and planning
  3. Slowed thinking, reactions, and speaking
  4. Garbled speech
  5. Trouble executing basic skills functions like adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing
  6. Decreased ability to concentrate
  7. Decreased ability to complete tasks
  8. Trouble with balance
  9. Diminished hearing

With alcohol-related dementia, as with all other dementias, the person who has alcohol-related dementia loses the self-awareness that anything is wrong, both neurologically and behaviorally.

Most cases of alcohol-related dementia involve global neurological deterioration. Everything is affected.

However, two very specific types of alcohol-related dementia, Wernicke encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome (known together as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome), which are the result of a vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency, have key features specific to them. There can be some reversal of symptoms with B1 (thiamine) therapy, but there is still permanent neurological damage and concurrent alcohol-related dementia.

Wernicke encephalopathy (commonly known as “wet brain”) causes damage in the thalamus and hypothalamus. Its symptoms include:

  • alcohol-related dementia Wernicke encephalopathy going gentle into that good nightSevere confusion and decreased mental activity that can lead to comas and death
  • Loss of muscle coordination (ataxia) that can cause tremors in the legs
  • Vision deterioration including abnormal eye movements, drooping eyelids, and persistent double vision

As symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy disappear, Korsakoff syndrome symptoms appear. These include:

  • Loss of ability to form new memories
  • Moderate to severe loss of all memories
  • Confabulation
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations  

Malcolm Young, the 61-year-old co-founder and guitarist for the band AC/DC, has been moved to a nursing home and his family has confirmed that he has dementia (he’s unable to remember any of the band’s songs).

Young’s addiction to alcohol is well-known. Although he sought rehabilitation treatment for alcoholism during the band’s tour in 1988, it appears that he malcolm young ac/dc dementia going gentle into that good nightrelapsed (the statistics on the efficacy of alcohol rehab are grim: from 50 to 90% of people who’ve been through treatment relapse, often, over a period of time, habitually consuming even more alcohol than they did before entering treatment) and never sought treatment again.

In April of this year, Young was hospitalized with what was described to the media as a stroke (chronic alcohol abuse has very detrimental effects on blood, including causing the platelets to clump together and form clots, and these clots, when they travel to the brain are responsible for strokes), so this would be entirely consistent with what we know about Young’s lifestyle. 

There are systemic physiological effects of chronic, long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism, including nerve damage in the arms and legs (peripheral neuropathy), liver damage (cirrhosis), heart damage, and kidney damage.

Concurrent with all of that is the irreversible neurological damage to the brain that results in alcohol-related dementia, which can emerge as early as 30 years of age, but more commonly begins emerging after the age of 50 in chronic, long-term alcohol abusers and alcoholics.

Drinking alcohol in moderation is fine. But I urge you to take an honest look at your drinking patterns and behavior. If you find that you are a chronic, long-term alcohol abuser or an alcoholic, then it’s time today to find a way to stop drinking alcohol for good.

But no one else can do that for you. Only you can make the choice to stop drinking alcohol and then follow through with actually doing it for the rest of your life. 

And here’s the key: until the rest of your life becomes more important than alcohol, you will be unsuccessful at choosing and taking action to stop drinking alcohol.

Because you are the only one who can take the action, every time you drink alcohol, as a chronic, long-term alcohol abuser or an alcoholic, you show yourself and the rest of the world the choice you’re making and you show yourself and the rest of the world what the most important thing in your life is.

And no one can change that but you.

Alcohol-Related Dementia: A Lifestyle Dementia

pouring-shots-alcohol-related-dementia

In “Lifestyle Dementia: Underdiscussed, Overlooked, But a Very Real and Present Danger,” and “Is the Precipitous Rise in Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease Over the Last Twenty to Thirty Years Linked to Lifestyle?,” we see that certain lifestyle factors and choices can make the likelihood of developing dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease more probable.

Two lifestyle factors that can contribute to the development of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease – and the onset of these is usually before age 65 – are chronic, long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism. This type of dementia is called alcohol-related dementia and can manifest itself in various forms.

This post will take a look at how chronic, long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism affects the brain and what the behaviors and symptoms of the dementia looks like.

We all know that drinking enough alcohol at one time impairs the brain. Common symptoms include slurring words, exhibiting general motor impairment, including stumbling and walking off-balance, making poor decisions (like driving, for example), being less able to hear sound at a normal volume, experiencing vision problems, and being unable to think clearly. 

These behaviors occur because alcohol depresses the central nervous system , causing it to slow down its responses and reactions. The brain stem (made up of the Pons, Medulla, and Midbrain), which regulates breathing, heart rate, lifestyle dementia alcohol related going gentle into that good nightand consciousness, as well all other areas of the brain are affected by alcohol:

  • Frontal – involved in movement, problem-solving, concentrating, thinking, mood, behavior, and personality
  • Temporal – involved in hearing, language, and memory
  • Parietal – involved in sensation awareness, language, perception, attention, and body awareness 
  • Occipital – involved in vision and perception
  • Cerebellum – involved in posture, balance, and coordination of movement

Chronic, long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism have even more devastating – and permanent – effects on the brain, eventually leading to alcohol-related dementia.

Usually the first noticeable symptoms of chronic, long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism are cognitive. Memory loss is common, but a unique feature of memory loss with people who are chronic, long-term alcohol abusers or alcoholics is confabulation.

Confabulation occurs when, instead of recalling accurate memories because of the damage to the brain, the person distorts, makes up, and misinterprets memories about themselves, others, and the world around them.

As difficult as it is to believe for those on the receiving end of confabulation, there is no conscious intent to be dishonest. It is simply the result of extensive neurological damage.

One of the most challenging aspects of people who confabulate is that although they are giving blatantly false information, the information can appear to be coherent, internally consistent, and relatively normal.

People who confabulate have incorrect memories that run the gambit from slight, almost imperceptible changes to the most outlandish made-up stories you can imagine.

The maddening thing about this is that they generally very confident – to the point of arguing down anyone (because they know the memory is fabricated) who tries to correct or challenge them – about their recollections, despite overwhelming concrete evidence that contradicts them.

Other signs of alcohol-related dementia emerge as:

  1. Inappropriate behavior, including words and actions
  2. Loss of executive function, including organizing and planning
  3. Slowed thinking, reactions, and speaking
  4. Garbled speech
  5. Trouble executing basic skills functions like adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing
  6. Decreased ability to concentrate
  7. Decreased ability to complete tasks
  8. Trouble with balance
  9. Diminished hearing

With alcohol-related dementia, as with all other dementias, the person who has alcohol-related dementia loses the self-awareness that anything is wrong, both neurologically and behaviorally.

Most cases of alcohol-related dementia involve global neurological deterioration. Everything is affected.

However, two very specific types of alcohol-related dementia, Wernicke encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome (known together as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome), which are the result of a vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency, have key features specific to them. There can be some reversal of symptoms with B1 (thiamine) therapy, but there is still permanent neurological damage and concurrent alcohol-related dementia.

Wernicke encephalopathy (commonly known as “wet brain”) causes damage in the thalamus and hypothalamus. Its symptoms include:

  • alcohol-related dementia Wernicke encephalopathy going gentle into that good nightSevere confusion and decreased mental activity that can lead to comas and death
  • Loss of muscle coordination (ataxia) that can cause tremors in the legs
  • Vision deterioration including abnormal eye movements, drooping eyelids, and persistent double vision

As symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy disappear, Korsakoff syndrome symptoms appear. These include:

  • Loss of ability to form new memories
  • Moderate to severe loss of all memories
  • Confabulation
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations  

Malcolm Young, the 61-year-old co-founder and guitarist for the band AC/DC, has been moved to a nursing home and his family has confirmed this week that he has dementia (he’s unable to remember any of the band’s songs).

Young’s addiction to alcohol is well-known. Although he sought rehabilitation treatment for alcoholism during the band’s tour in 1988, it appears that he malcolm young ac/dc dementia going gentle into that good nightrelapsed (the statistics on the efficacy of alcohol rehab are grim: from 50 to 90% of people who’ve been through treatment relapse, often, over a period of time, habitually consuming even more alcohol than they did before entering treatment) and never sought treatment again.

In April of this year, Young was hospitalized with what was described to the media as a stroke (chronic alcohol abuse has very detrimental effects on blood, including causing the platelets to clump together and form clots, and these clots, when they travel to the brain are responsible for strokes), so this would be entirely consistent with what we know about Young’s lifestyle. 

There are systemic physiological effects of chronic, long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism, including nerve damage in the arms and legs (peripheral neuropathy), liver damage (cirrhosis), heart damage, and kidney damage.

Concurrent with all of that is the irreversible neurological damage to the brain that results in alcohol-related dementia, which can emerge as early as 30 years of age, but more commonly begins emerging after the age of 50 in chronic, long-term alcohol abusers and alcoholics.

Drinking alcohol in moderation is fine. But I urge you to take an honest look at your drinking patterns and behavior. If you find that you are a chronic, long-term alcohol abuser or an alcoholic, then it’s time today to find a way to stop drinking alcohol for good.

But no one else can do that for you. Only you can make the choice to stop drinking alcohol and then follow through with actually doing it for the rest of your life. 

And here’s the key: until the rest of your life becomes more important than alcohol, you will be unsuccessful at choosing and taking action to stop drinking alcohol.

Because you are the only one who can take the action, every time you drink alcohol, as a chronic, long-term alcohol abuser or an alcoholic, you show yourself and the rest of the world the choice you’re making and you show yourself and the rest of the world what the most important thing in your life is.

And no one can change that but you.

Lifestyle Dementia: Underdiscussed, Overlooked, But a Very Real and Present Danger

Today’s post will discuss lifestyle dementia. Many of the people, especially the elderly and very elderly, suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease today either have the genetic markers for it or – and this is my opinion, but I see strong evidence to support it with the precipitous explosion of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease – are suffering from the effects of living on a toxic earth, eating toxic food, and breathing toxic air.

However, another group of dementia sufferers is emerging.

They are younger and have very different lifestyles than their elderly and very elderly counterparts with whom they share the same commonalities of dementia. This group of people has dementia that is directly related to lifestyle.

How we live our lives is a series of choices that we make consciously or unconsciously along the way. That is what becomes our lifestyle. Our lifestyle – all of those choices – has short-term effects and long-term effects. 

The long-term effects of those lifestyle choices are beginning to be seen in the growing number of people suffering with lifestyle dementia. One of the generations most noticeably – and disproportionate to the incidence in the expected populations of the elderly and very elderly – affected is the Baby Boomer generation (people born between 1943 and 1960, according to William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book The Fourth Turning, which I highly recommend that everyone read).

I strongly suspect that one of the lifestyle choices, which I’ll discuss later, that was prevalent with this generation during the 1960’s and early 1970’s is a key contributor to the development of the lifestyle dementia we see emerging among this age group today.

Before we proceed with describing lifestyle choices that could lead to lifestyle dementia, it’s important to understand what the word dementia describes. Any loss of function of and/or damage to the internal components of the brain (neurological, chemical, or physical) falls under the broad category of dementia when describing the brain’s condition.

(Inset note: Alzheimer’s Disease is the shrinkage of the size of the brain from the outside in, brought on by a specific condition that occurs in the nerve cells of the brain. Therefore, it’s important to remember that all people suffering from dementia don’t necessarily have Alzheimer’s Disease, while all people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease have a very specific kind of dementia, commonly called tangles and plaques.)

So dementia is a condition – or  state – of the brain. Like many nouns, this condition or state has adjectives that describe where the loss of function or damage is or specific identified abnormalities of the brain that affect function and cognition. Therefore, when we see the term vascular dementia, for example, the loss of function and/or damage to the brain is related to the blood vessels in the brain. 

So what kind of lifestyle choices can lead to lifestyle dementia?

diabetes-insulin-dementiaIn the last twenty to thirty years, the western world has adopted a supersized fast-food diet, a very sedentary lifestyle, and an “ignorance is bliss” attitude toward taking care of their health with regular medical checkups and changes in their lifestyles to address health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Unchecked or uncontrolled, both high blood pressure and diabetes directly affect the health of the blood vessels in the brain, leading to widespread blood vessel damage and neurological cell death, which is the cause of vascular dementia. 

alcoholAnother lifestyle choice that can lead to lifestyle dementia is alcohol abuse. While it’s generally believed that alcohol doesn’t directly kill brain cells, alcohol abuse creates key vitamin deficiencies that adversely affect the brain and adversely affects the liver’s ability to remove toxins from the body. Research shows that women who abuse alcohol begin to exhibit the adverse effects in half the time that men who abuse alcohol do.  

This article from the National Institute of Health gives a very clear and understandable explanation of how alcohol abuse results in long-term damage to the brain. The specific type of dementia that occurs with alcohol abuse is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which occurs because of a thiamine (B1) deficiency.

A third lifestyle choice that can lead to lifestyle dementia is drug abuse. I noted earlier that one lifestyle choice seems to point to why there is such a high incidence of older Baby Boomers showing signs of dementia at earlier ages than their elderly and very elderly counterparts do. I believe that this phenomenon has a direct correlation to the pervasive and unabashed drug experimentation within this age group in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

A few years ago, I watched a documentary entitled The Drug Years on the History Channel (it was originally produced by the Sundance Channel and VH1). If you have not seen it, you should (Netflix and Hulu subscribers will find it in the Documentaries section). It’s shocking in some ways, but very informative in others. If you’re like me, you’ll watch it shaking your head a lot. But there’s a lot of history that explains things before some of us (like me) were born or cognizant and it also explains our continuing prevalent and unabashed drug culture in the U.S. today.

The series had a lot of commentary by Martin Torgoff, who wrote 2005’s Can’t Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age 1945-2000. Intrigued by the title (the first part of the title is the mind-altering drugstitle of one of my favorite songs by the band Traffic), I read the book after watching the documentary. I don’t believe that any book I’ve ever read scared me as much as Torgoff’s book did. And as much head-shaking as I did during the documentary, I did even more reading this book.

As Torgoff described the drug abuse of the 1960’s and early 1970’s and quoted well-known and not-so-well-known people about their own drug use and abuse, it became evident that there was an uninhibited desire to find, use, and abuse any substance that substantially altered the brain. The more altered the brain was, the “better” the experience.

With the psychedelic agents in LSD, acid, psilocybin mushrooms, and peyote, perceptions became altered, hallucinations occurred, and illusions became real.  In short, this generation liberally sought every possible means of chemically inducing the manifestations of dementia. In the process, neurological damage occurred and now, with age, the effects of that damage are becoming more evident with the emergence of lifestyle dementia.

To be clear and to be fair, I’m not saying that every case of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia or other types of dementia occurring at a younger-than-usual age is the result of drug abuse. That’s much too broad a brush stroke to paint with. But a recent study showed a pretty strong link between dementia and teenage/young adult lifestyle choices for people without a family history of the diseases.

And the neurological damage from this lifestyle choice continues with the use of more modern drugs like Ecstasy, Adderall, and “bath salts,” which are psychoactive and which stimulate the brain beyond its normal capacity and can produce hallucinations, seizures, and even death.

Bath salts, which have become popular in the last couple of years, permanently create irreversible neurological damage because of the simultaneous and voluminous suckerpunch all at once to the brain with the chemical effects of amphetamines and cocaine.

It remains to be seen, although it certainly will occur, what lifestyle dementias develop among the Millennials using these drugs today.

Some things happen to us in life through no fault of our own. However, we have choices in how we live our lives, and we can make positive lifestyle choices that, while they may not preclude any of us from developing Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias down the road, will ensure that we’ve done every within our power to ensure that our choices and actions haven’t contributed to it.