Dementia and Alzheimer’s on the Rise
The numbers of people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s are rising all over the world to such a point that there is a fear that there will not be enough care facilities to handle the large numbers that are expected over the next decade. Thus, there is a race to try to find ways of preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s, as until today no real cure has been found.
Alcoholic Disorders and Heavy Drinking
Heavy drinking and alcohol disorders were found to be the most significant cause of all kinds of dementias in a French study published in the Lancet Public Health Journal, that included over a million adults ages 20 years and older suffering from dementia related to alcohol abuse. The study only included people that were actually hospitalized for alcoholic disorders between 2008-2013, so the statistics for heavy drinking leading to dementia may be much higher.
Two categories were used for those discharged from hospital for alcohol abuse:
- Mental and behavior disorders
- Chronic diseases that had followed alcohol abuse like alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis, head injury, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, end-stage liver disease and epilepsy
Heavy and Moderate drinking Resulted in Brain Damage
Early Onset Dementia
Early onset dementia (before the age of 65) that leads to premature death was found in 57,000 cases and for 57% of them the dementia was a result of chronic heavy drinking, which is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), as drinking more than 60 grams of pure alcohol a day for men and 40 grams for women. However, even moderate drinking resulted in brain damage.
The onset of dementia was divided into three categories:
- Alcohol related brain damage
- Vascular dementia that also included those with a history of stroke
- Other dementias including Alzheimer’s disease
Early Onset Dementia Shortened Lives by 20 Years
Dr. Jurgen Rehm, the co-author of the study and Director of the CAMH Institute for Mental Health Policy Research claims that the lives of these early onset dementia cases were shortened by 20 years. Dementia was the main cause of their early deaths, although there was also a strong association with other risk factors like tobacco smoking, diabetes, obesity, vision impairment, sleep apnea, hypothyroidism, chronic kidney disease, hearing loss, low levels of education, depression and high blood pressure. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for hemorrhagic stroke, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure which can lead to vascular dementia. Men made up 64,9% of the cases of early onset dementia, but women made up a majority of total dementia cases. Heavy drinking damages the brain by its neurotoxic effect and lowers B complex vitamins like thiamine which are vital to proper cognitive function.
Screening, Intervention and Treatment
Alcohol disorders and heavy drinking are the most important risk factors for all kinds of dementias including early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease and are also the most preventable if treatment begins on time.
The authors of the French study that found alcohol abuse the main cause of all dementias recommend that screening be done to find those most at risk and intervention and treatment be made available to heavy drinkers to prevent the downhill road to full dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.