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Alcohol-related dementia

09 November 2023
Volume 32 · Issue 20


Dementia is one of the leading causes of death both in the UK and worldwide. Approximately 1 million people have been diagnosed with this condition in the UK. Although there are many types of dementia, this article will focus on alcohol-related dementia. Alcohol has become a leading cause of death in the 50−69-year age group in England, and with consumption rising rapidly, there is an increased risk that young and middle-aged people will develop alcohol-related dementia in the future. The aim of this article is to review the evidence base and discuss whether alcohol-related dementia is a sub-class of dementia or a separate entity.

Dementia is considered a health priority by the World Health Organization (WHO) because it is one of the leading causes of death globally (WHO, 2017). Within the UK, an estimated 944 000 people have been diagnosed with this condition (Luengo-Fernandez and Landeiro, 2023). Dementia is a neurodegenerative syndrome that encompasses several progressive conditions that affect the brain, leading to a deterioration in cognitive function over and above the usual expected biological ageing process (Handing et al, 2015; Langballe et al, 2015).

At present, Alzheimer's disease is the most commonly diagnosed dementia, followed by vascular disease and Lewy bodies dementia (Cunningham et al, 2015). It is well established, however, that there is an association between alcohol use and changes in cognitive function and dementia (Xu et al, 2017). Research suggests that there is a high incidence of alcohol use disorders in patients with dementia, leading to increasing cognitive decline (Rao and Draper, 2018) and significant rates of dementia in people who drink alcohol to excess (Ritchie and Villebrun, 2008). Schwarzinger et al (2018) identified a considerable relationship between alcohol use disorders and all types of dementia. In 2020, the Lancet Commission added excessive alcohol use in mid-life to a list of significant risk factors for developing dementia (Livingston et al, 2020).

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