Ireland’s first ever seminar on Korsakoff’s Syndrome

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The challenges and opportunities for a Forgotten Population.

Organised by Neurological Alliance of Ireland, Bloomfield Mental Health Services and Alcohol Action Ireland, this event took place, virtually, on Friday, 6 Nov 2020, and aimed to highlight the unique needs of those living with Korsakoff‘s Syndrome, including the lack of specific services in Ireland and the current policy context.

Korsakoff‘s Syndrome is a particularly significant outcome of alcohol abuse. This condition occurs due to low levels of thiamine, which is itself often a direct consequence of alcohol abuse.

Approximately 90% of cases of Korsakoff‘s Syndrome (KS) are as a result of alcohol abuse.

A hallmark symptom of KS is a profound impairment in making new memories, rendering those with this condition unable to live in the community without significant supports. In actual fact, KS is the long-term, and irreversible, consequence of an acute medical emergency that occurs when the brain reaches that crucial point of thiamine deficiency. If treated as a medical emergency at that moment, the long-term damage can be avoided.

As a society with such high population rates of risky single occasion drinking, there are many adults living with KS in Ireland. Some live in nursing homes, psychiatric facilities, some are possibly in homeless services, or potentially at home, but with significant supports.

Better data regarding epidemiology is required. It is difficult to have clarity regarding the situation and there are many outstanding issues with regard to detection rates of the acute medical emergency state, pathways for care etc. Many who experience KS can be excluded from some of the community-based brain injury services that could potentially support them to live in the community.

The seminar was addressed by, Prof. Roy Kessels, a leading global expert in the field, who spoke about best practice in terms of service provision based on his experience of developing specific services in The Netherlands.

Speaking ahead of the event, Dr. Melanie Ryberg, Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist, Bloomfield Health Services said:

 ‘This is a patient group who fall between all stools in terms of service provision in the post-acute stage. Working-age people left to see out their days in long-term placements, such as nursing homes or psychiatric wards; their conditions deteriorating only because of unsuitable placements that do keep them safe, but are not equipped to meet their rehabilitation needs. We cannot continue to ignore this forgotten population; we must invest in appropriate rehabilitation services now.’ 


Mags Rogers, Executive Director, Neurological Alliance of Ireland commented that:

“As the national advocacy umbrella for neurological charities we are calling for investment to implement the National Neurorehabilitation Strategy and provide specialist rehabilitation services for Korsakoffs and other neurological patients” 

The organisers welcome all healthcare and service providers who have an interest in this area to join us for this focused event, with a view to bringing the issues faced by this forgotten group to light; this event will be a start to that conversation.


Notes to Speakers: 

Keynote Speaker: Professor Roy Kessels, Scientific Advisor, Centre of Excellence for Korsakoff and Alcohol-Related Disorders at Vincent Van Gogh Institute of Psychiatry.

Professor Roy Kessels is a clinical neuropsychologist, affiliated with Radboud University Medical Center and the Centre of Excellence for Korsakoff and Alcohol-Related Cognitive Disorders of Vincent van Gogh Institute for Psychiatry in Venray, the Netherlands. In his clinical work and research he has a special interest in amnesia and dementia, including alcohol-related cognitive disorders.



The Neurological Alliance of Ireland is the national umbrella body representing over thirty not for profit organisations working with people with neurological conditions and their families.

Neurological conditions affect the brain and spinal cord and include many common conditions such as stroke, migraine, epilepsy and acquired brain injury as well as rare and genetically transmitted conditions.

The Neurological Alliance works to promote the development of services for people with neurological conditions through its advocacy and campaigns as well as through policy development, research and awareness raising


Bloomfield Mental Health Services provides specialist mental health assessment, treatment and support services to adults with a range of serious and enduring mental health issues, and neuro-psychiatric disorders, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s Diseases.


Alcohol Action Ireland is the national independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm.