This holiday season may be filled with drinking red wine and spirits, but be careful to curb your older loved one’s alcohol consumption. It can lead to something more serious, such as an increased risk of dementia.
Alcoholism increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, which can elevate high blood pressure and is considered a key factor in increasing the risk of developing dementia later in life, such as vascular dementia.
In this article, we’ll discuss the roles that alcohol and stress have in dementia diagnoses, and go over the 12 preventable risk factors to slow down the onset of dementia later in life.
Symptoms and early signs of alcohol-induced dementia
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over time can lead to alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) that can develop into alcohol-induced dementia.
In most cases, dementia is caused by microscopic accumulations or proteins that clump together in the brain to block neurotransmitters, resulting in brain atrophy. This is typically how dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are formed.
However, in alcohol-induced dementia, alcohol is responsible for damaging neurons, which can cause the brain to shrink and negatively impact its ability to send neurotransmitters that control cognition and movement throughout the body.
Not only are neurons, or nerve cells, negatively impacted, but excessive alcohol consumption can damage blood vessels, causing high blood pressure that can cause strokes.
Drinking excessively also creates behavioral issues that can further accelerate the person’s risk of dementia. Behaviors include not having enough of a balanced, healthy diet and an increased risk of head injuries, either from falls, accidents, or violence.
The early signs and symptoms of alcohol-induced dementia include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty following conversations
- Impaired attentiveness
- Impaired social skills
- Impaired judgment
- Abnormal eye movement
- Fast heart rate
- Muscle weakness and atrophy
- Difficulty walking
- Aphasia, which is difficulty with language
- Impaired motor functions
- Difficulties recognizing objects
What are the risk factors for dementia?
There isn’t a single cause of dementia, but there are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing dementia later in life.
Many of these risk factors can be caused by alcohol dependence and the lifestyle created by addiction.
Risk factors for dementia can include:
- Being older than 65
- Having a family history of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- History of smoking and alcohol abuse
- High cholesterol
- Mild cognitive impairment
What are the 12 preventable and modifiable risk factors for dementia?
Many of the risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia can be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle.
Being addicted to alcohol can lead to other risk factors such as overeating, engaging in risky behavior, and smoking cigarettes, which all contribute to an increased risk of dementia.
Let’s review the 12 things to do to help prevent dementia.
1. Limit excessive alcohol consumption
While researchers haven’t defined what a “safe” level of drinking alcohol is, most doctors recognize that binge drinking and excessive drinking will increase the risk of developing dementia.
Excessive drinking, defined as more than four drinks a day or 14 drinks a week, can increase the risk of dementia by up to three times.
Older people should not start drinking alcohol to reduce dementia risk, as there is no proof that alcohol can reduce the risks, but there are large amounts of proof that excessive drinking drastically increases the risks of dementia or of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Stop smoking
Smoking tobacco creates vascular problems that can lead to strokes and brain bleeds, which drastically increase the risks of dementia.
3. Get better sleep
Abnormal or unhealthy sleep patterns are symptoms of dementia, but they’re also potential causes of dementia as well.
Researchers found that people who sleep fewer than five hours a night are twice as likely to develop dementia.
4. Treat depression
Depression is caused by low levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, which can lead to apathy, worsening mood, and abandoning healthy habits, all of which contribute to a higher risk for dementia.
Non-medication solutions to fighting depression can include daily exercises, expressive gratitude, meditation, and cognitive behavioral therapy to change one’s thoughts.
5. Manage stress
Prolonged levels of stress can increase hypertension and wear the body down prematurely, accelerating the possibility of developing dementia.
However, not all people with chronic stress will develop dementia, but it has been shown as an increased risk factor. Try your best to eliminate the lifestyle factors that seem to bring the most stress or, at least, work on your reaction to those stressors.
6. Lower blood pressure and hypertension
Hypertension is the leading cause of strokes, which are small brain bleeds that negatively impact the brain’s ability to function.
Strokes are an established risk factor for many causes of dementia, with one-quarter to one-third of strokes resulting in dementia, known as stroke-related dementia. Make the healthy lifestyle changes needed to lower your blood pressure, mainly changing to a healthy diet such as the DASH diet or Mediterranean diet.
7. Increase intellectual capacity
People who work cognitively stimulating jobs tend to stay sharper into older age and have a 23% lower risk of developing dementia than other people.
There is also research indicating that higher levels of education may create a greater “cognitive reserve” that can keep brains sharper and more active in fighting against memory loss.
Conversely, having a low education level has been seen to increase the chances of developing dementia and cognitive decline.
The best ways to increase intellectual capacity are by forming and maintaining social connections, engaging in activities, and stimulating the brain with puzzles and games.
8. Avoid traumatic brain injury (TBI)
Traumatic brain injuries are linked to cognitive decline and a greater risk of developing dementia in later years.
Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to negative choices such as getting into fights or driving drunk, which can create serious head injuries and cognitive dysfunction that can lead to developing dementia.
9. Maintain a healthy weight
Obese people are 31% more likely to develop dementia than those who aren’t. This is because obesity increases the chances of hypertension, reduces physical activity, and increases most risk factors for developing dementia, such as diabetes.
10. Stay socially active and reduce social isolation
Being socially isolated can cause stagnation in the brain from a lack of stimulation or engagement and increases the risk of developing dementia by 50%.
However, staying socially active and participating in shared activities and events with friends and family members can stave off dementia and slow down its progression.
11. Managing and preventing diabetes
Diabetes increases the risk factors for developing several diseases, such as heart disease and dementia.
Maintaining constant blood sugar levels is important for healthy brain function, and low blood sugar levels have been known to damage the hippocampus, which is the brain’s memory center.
12. Limit exposure to air pollution and environmental toxins
Research has found correlations between individuals living in highly polluted areas developing dementia quicker compared to people who live in lesser polluted areas.
When to seek memory care for dementia
People living in the first stage of dementia may become forgetful and experience difficulties focusing, but can still live mostly normal lives.
However, people with dementia who also have alcohol dependence issues put themselves and other people at an increased risk by engaging in drunk driving, especially if their caregivers are unable to drive them to appointments.
If you suspect your loved one’s alcohol dependence or alcohol-induced dementia are putting them in increased risks for harming themselves, then you may consider moving your loved one to a memory care community.
Memory care communities are special sections of assisted living communities that feature more hands-on care and supervision for people who need more help completing their daily activities.
If you’ve ever worried about your loved one wandering off or getting lost on their own, then consider the benefits and security of moving them to a community that can provide them with the levels of care they deserve.
The Kensington Falls Church — a dedicated memory care neighborhood for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
Our enhanced care license allows us to provide more care for your loved one than you’ll find at traditional assisted living communities.
If you have a loved one suffering from dementia, please contact us today to find out how they can get the care and attention they deserve.
Are you a caretaker or nurse looking to join the Kensington family? Visit our careers page to learn more.