I was recently contacted to conduct a placement for a gentleman who has alcoholic dementia, also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome. The affect of years of chronic alcohol abuse causes loss of short-term memory. The disease usually affects men between the ages of 45-65 who have a history of heavy drinking. The disease affects women too, and the age group is normally younger than men.
You can’t actually diagnose the disease until after the individual quits drinking for a period of several weeks so that the affects of intoxication or withdrawal can subside. Normally, a number of tests will follow including those that are medical and psychological. If the condition continues to worsen, a diagnosis of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s may follow.
When you are faced with a crisis situation, like the instance I will share in my Real Life Story,
there are certain steps you can take to remedy the situation.
Real Life Story
My client was an individual in their mid-fifties. The person had been a heavy drinker since his teens. The usual series of events that accompany alcoholism followed including fights, loss of several jobs, separation from the spouse, and estrangement from the family.
After the last binge, the individual was admitted to the hospital for detox., tests, and rehab. at a long-term care community. When the psychological tests were performed, it was revealed that there was serious impairment rendering him unable to participate in any kind of group therapy. He became agitated when asked to perform certain requirements of the tests. If asked to perform a task, he would back track and perform a duty of a task asked in a previous test. The tests basically concluded that little progress could be expected with regard to recovery in the future. Although he was agitated, he didn’t fight. His subsequent stay in the nursing home was uneventful, and he didn’t come out of his room. He was released to go home after several months, and had several caregivers and family looking in on him.
After a period of time, things returned to normal and the caregivers were discharged. He was able to carry on with his activities of daily living including bathing, dressing, walking, toileting, etc. He was able to conduct his incidental activities of daily living like mowing the lawn and preparing simple meals and keeping up the house meticulously without a problem.
Then recently, things began to change. Items that needed to be in the toilet ended up in the waste basket and vice-versa. Garbage needed to be disposed of at a remote location lest it find its way back into the house. The house slowly began to be dismantled. The family was afraid that the house would be burned to the ground. Things became so worrisome that a family member needed to be there all the time.
When a situation like this occurs, here are the steps you need to take. First, when you notice that a loved one is experiencing behavioral issues, take them to the emergency room of the hospital, and preferably one that has a behavioral unit. Their problems may be caused by something like a urinary tract infection or another medical issue. However, if that is not the case, they can be admitted to the behavioral-psychological unit where they can be evaluated. From there, they can potentially be admitted to a nursing home that is equipped to handle psychological behaviors.
That is generally what you should do. However, alcoholic dementia is a fairly rare condition.
Many of the nursing homes that specialize in psychological behaviors refused to consider this condition. There was a huge concern about his fitting in with the rest of the population of the communities. There was fear of unpredictable behavior related to the disease. While many of the nursing homes declined to consider this individual, several of the assisted living that specialize in dementia were eager to give it a try. As a senior living advisor, I always take the stance that you should start an individual at the higher level of care and work down if the person improves. After a tough search, he was placed at a community (one of two that would consider this condition) that specializes in psych issues after a period of observation at a behavioral psych unit.