Dementia Centred

Wendy Perry's picture

By Wendy Perry

March 24th, 2021

Alcohol and brain health

You may have run across news stories reporting on increased drinking levels during the pandemic and particularly during the lockdown periods. Studies have reported an increase in people drinking 4 four or more times per week, as well as an increase in people binge drinking on a weekly basis. This has probably not surprised many people, alcohol has long been used as a coping mechanism in difficult times, and these have certainly been difficult times. But this shift in societal behaviour has significant consequences both now and in the future. 

Research data suggests that drinking levels are dynamic in nature, with increases and declines that are impacted by both gender and age.  For instance, tracking data showed that overall consumption increased significantly in the 90’s and peaked in the mid 2000’s.  In recent years it had been declining, though not across all demographic groups. There had been a notable decline among the younger generation, though they were still the most likely to binge drink when they were drinking. But the statistics showed that the over 50’s were increasing (perhaps continuing to engage in the drinking patterns they had acquired during the peak consumption period of the 1990’s and early 2000’s).

Then the pandemic began.  There have been numerous surveys and research projects looking into changes in drinking patterns since lockdown, very few have positive findings: it would seem binge drinking in 50 and over is up, overall alcohol consumption is up, drinking in older adults is up, and there are fears that support services will be overwhelmed.  Most stark of all, mortality due to alcohol use is up.  What will be the legacy of this in the future, as a society, for our health and social care system, our third sector support systems?

At the DSDC we often view societal changes through the lens of brain health. The changes in alcohol consumption, especially in the over 50’s, is a significant concern.   Approximately 1 in 10 people with dementia under the age of 65 has some form of Alcohol Related Brain Damage (ARBD). ARBD often impacts people in their 50s and 60s (though it can affect people even younger) and results in memory loss, loss of coordination, changes in the frontal lobe impacting on behaviour and decision making.  ARBD is a type of dementia, but it is unique in that it is the only one in which some recovery is possible with the right treatment and support.  For a few, total recovery may be possible. However, for that recovery to occur, the individual must receive the right treatment and support. Unfortunately there are still very limited services for older people with ARBD, which means they often rely on general older peoples services, which may not have the knowledge base or resources to support them as needed.  Those knowledgeable staff and resources may become more vital than ever when the full effects of this pandemic are felt.

If you would like to learn more about the physical, emotional and social impact of ARBD on the individual and family, as well as understand the basic path to diagnosis and recovery, the DSDC now has an online learning course available. If you are a family member or volunteer who supports someone with Korsakoff syndrome or alcohol related dementia and would benefit from this course but need assistance with funding please contact us directly at: dementia@stir.ac.uk.

 

Categories: Dementia Care