This disorder develops in approximately 9% of alcoholics (Evert & Oscar-Berman, 1995) and consists of memory impairment combined with aphasia, apraxia, agnosia, and impairment in executive functions, such as planning, organizing, sequencing, and abstracting. These deficits are not part of a delirium and persist beyond intoxication and withdrawal. The dementia is caused by the direct effects of alcohol, as well as by vitamin deficiencies.
Models of cognitive impairment in alcoholics include "premature aging," which means that alcohol accelerates the aging process, and/or that vulnerability to alcohol-induced brain damage is magnified in people over the age of 50; the "right-hemisphere model," which is derived from the evidence that nonverbal skills (reading maps, block design tests, etc.) are more profoundly impaired in alcoholics than left-hemisphere tasks (language functions); and the "diffuse brain dysfunction" model, which proposes that chronic alcoholism leads to widespread brain damage (Ellis & Oscar-Berman, 1989).
Personality changes, irritability, and mild memory deficits in an abstinent individual with a history of alcoholism are early clues suggestive of alcohol-induced persisting dementia.
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