Academic journal article Alcohol Health & Research World

Dementia and Its Causes

Academic journal article Alcohol Health & Research World

Dementia and Its Causes

Article excerpt

The term "dementia" denotes any condition characterized by severe global intellectual impairment, including loss of memory functions and abstract thinking, personality changes, disruption of social skills, and other impairments of higher brain functions. Dementia can have a variety of causes, including alcoholism and other drug abuse, neurodegenerative diseases, and brain injuries or tumors.

Alcoholism

Alcoholism can lead to several degrees of cognitive dysfunction and pathological changes in the brain structure. Most commonly, chronic alcohol abuse is associated with relatively subtle cognitive and motor deficits (Martin et al. 1986). More rarely, alcoholism leads to alcoholic dementia, a neurobehavioral syndrome marked by a global loss of intelligence. In contrast, alcoholics with Korsakoff's syndrome (KS) exhibit a more specific memory dysfunction marked by a permanent inability to remember new facts and events for more than a few seconds (i.e., anterograde amnesia) as well as deficits in nonmemory realms, such as temporal discrimination, spatial organization, abstraction, and initiative (Squire 1982). In addition to the severe deficits that define alcoholic dementia and KS, both conditions include the milder dysfunctions associated with chronic alcoholism.

Neurodegenerative Diseases

Neurodegenerative diseases (i.e., diseases in which parts of the nervous system are progressively destroyed) potentially resulting in dementia include Alzheimer's disease (AD), Huntington's disease (HD), and Parkinson's disease (PD). AD, which occurs mainly in people over age 65 and is the most common cause of dementia, is characterized by progressive cognitive and intellectual deterioration (e.g., confusion, memory failure, and disorientation). These symptoms are accompanied by pathological changes in the brain, such as the degeneration of nerve fibers in certain brain regions (i.e. …

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