ABC Online (Australia) – Alcohol linked to early onset dementia

  • Post category:World News

New research suggests that up to a fifth of all cases of early onset dementia are alcohol related.

That’s nearly twice the figure suggested by earlier estimates.

Drug and Alcohol experts say the figures are a real worry, and may reflect an increase in binge drinking among young people.

They say too many people underestimate the long term health effects of alcohol abuse.

Timothy McDonald reports.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: A new study from the Dementia Collaborative Research Centre at the University of New South Wales has found that nearly 20 per cent of younger onset dementia cases can be attributed to alcohol.

Dr Adrienne Withall says the growth may be partly due to increased awareness of the problem, but it’s just as likely that higher alcohol consumption is to blame.

ADRIENNE WITHALL: That’s hard to say because I don’t think we’ve ever had a particularly good fix on the number of cases of people who have alcohol related dementia; it really is a growing recognition that we have that alcohol can cause this. So for us we’ve found that results in people with young onset dementia across New South Wales there’s a study that was done in Randwick as well as studies that have been done across hospitals statewide, suggest about 20 per cent cases of people with young onset and that seems to be up from a rate of about 10 per cent of the UK 10 years ago.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Dr Withall says it’s clear there’s a link between sustained drinking and increased incidence of early onset dementia. What’s less obvious is the link between dementia and binge drinking, especially among younger people.

ADRIENNE WITHALL: We’re talking really about sustained drinking. I think given the increasing prevalence for people to binge drink we just don’t know enough about what it’s going to do in the future. But when it comes to sustained drinking and the kind of daily drinking, we’re talking about for men around about 35 standard drinks a week and for women about 28 standard drinks a week over a period for about five years; so it’s quite sustained regular daily drinking.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Dr John Herron is the chairman of the Australian National Council on Drugs.

He agrees more research is needed, but says binge drinking is the most likely cause.

JOHN HERRON: It’s all related to the early onset of drinking. Foetal alcohol syndrome’s well established and identified and the effect on the developing brain is well identified but we seem to get that disconnect in our own minds that because foetal alcohol syndrome is authenticated, then it’s not authenticated in kids up the age of 15, 16 or even 20.

But I’m not surprised that it’s 20 per cent, because binge drinking has been a recent phenomenon, quantified anyway; it’s been around for ever but not to the degree that it is now. Certainly it’s been quantified in the last 15 years, but we know that binge drinking is a fairly common phenomenon among young people.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Dr Herron says too many people underestimate the damage that alcohol can do to the brain.

JOHN HERRON: Alcohol’s basically a poison. I mean it affects the liver as you know and it also affects the brain but it diffuses the brain; when you get strokes or blood vessel clotting occurring in the brain, that part of the brain is affected. Another part of the brain can take over the function of that other brain, this is called neuroplasticity but with alcohol it affects all brain cells.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: So in the case of alcohol related damage, the brain simply can’t repair itself?

JOHN HERRON: Well it does to a degree. I think there’s research that shows that it affects some parts of the brain more frequently than others. You know the old delirium tremens for example, the motor affect on the brain, that’s been know forever it was called the DTs. It’s now dropped out of the literature as such but the alcohol first affected the motor functions of the brain so that people got tremor and couldn’t control the shaking of their hands.

But many alcoholics of course retained their intellectual capacity, so it does affect different parts of the brain to a different degree, but if affects all the brain.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Dr Withall says alcohol related brain injuries affect people from all socio-economic groups and can have a huge impact on families.

MARK COLVIN: Timothy McDonald.


Source: ABC Online (Australia), 16/09/2010