Senior Living Care Blog

What Is Korsakoff Syndrome?

Posted by Joe Gilmore on Jun 14, 2019 11:00:00 AM

Dementia is a problem that millions of Americans suffer from; one form of dementia called Korsakoff syndrome is caused by excessive alcohol use and lead to symptoms dealing with memory loss.


Dementia is a serious mental disorder that affects a person’s cognitive abilities and can impact things like memory and judgement. Millions of people across the country suffer from all types of dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease.


One less common form of dementia that still affects many around the globe is Korsakoff syndrome. The syndrome is caused by excessive alcohol use and leads to symptoms such as problems forming memories and problems recalling the distant past.


What Is Korsakoff Syndrome?

An older couple sitting on the rocks overlooking the water discussing what is korsakoff syndrome

Korsakoff syndrome is a chronic memory disorder caused by the deficiency of thiamine, or vitamin B-1. This syndrome is commonly associated and caused by alcohol misuse. However, there are other conditions that can cause the problem. For example, problems like AIDS, cancers, chronic infections, poor nutrition, and other conditions. The syndrome can also affect people whose bodies do not absorb food properly.



The deficiency of thiamine in the body is what causes Korsakoff Syndrome. Thiamine is used in the body by helping brain cells produce energy from sugar. When levels of thiamine fall too low in the body, the brain cannot generate enough energy to function properly.


As mentioned before, alcohol use is a major contributing factor to this. However, heavy drinking can lead to a number of other thinking changes and cognitive decline issues. Alcohol misuse can lead to brain damage through:

  • Toxic effects on brain cells
  • Stress of repeated intoxication and withdrawal
  • Alcohol-related diseases that affect the brain


Wernicke Encephalopathy

Wernicke encephalopathy is a related disorder that often precedes Korsakoff syndrome. It is considered a medical emergency. If left untreated, it can cause death in up to 20 percent of cases and progresses to Korsakoff syndrome in 85 percent of survivors. Data suggests that about 25 percent of those who develop Korsakoff syndrome eventually recover, about have improve but don’t fully recover, and about 25 percent remain unchanged.


Korsakoff Syndrome Symptoms

A doctor reviewing korsakoff syndrome symptoms with a patient.

Korsakoff syndrome causes many problems with learning new information and can impede a person’s ability to remember recent events and can cause long-term memory gaps. Memory problems can be incredibly severe while other cognitive functions such as social skills may be unaffected.


The syndrome can get to the point where patients begin to make up information that they can’t remember on their own. However, this doesn’t quite mean they are lying, some of these people may even believe these fabricated situations.



Pills used to help Korsakoff syndrome

Some recommend that heavy drinkers and others who are at risk of thiamine deficiency should take oral supplements of thiamine and other vitamins under doctor’s supervision.


It is recommended that anyone with a history of heavy alcohol use who experiences symptoms associated with Korsakoff syndrome attempts to reduce alcohol intake or stop altogether.


Other Types of Dementia

An elderly woman comforting her friend with korsakoff syndrome.


Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy body dementia is a progressive form of dementia that leads to a decline in thinking, reasoning due to damage in brain cells over time. Experts consider Lewy body dementia as the third most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. There is a consensus that Lewy body dementia accounts for 5 to 10 percent of cases.


Many people with Lewy body dementia develop movement problems like hunched posture, rigid muscles, shuffling walk, and problems initiating movement. Other common symptoms associated with this type of dementia includes:

  • Changes in thinking and reasoning
  • Delusions
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Confusion
  • Trouble interpreting visual information


The causes of Lewy body dementia are still relatively unknown. Most people with Lewy body dementia have found no family history of the disorder.


There are no treatments that can stop or slow the brain damage caused by Lewy body dementia. Current treatment strategies just focus on helping patients overcome and deal with symptoms. There are medications available such as cholinesterase inhibitors and antidepressants to help with certain symptoms.


Huntington's Disease

Huntington’s disease is a progressive brain disorder. It causes changes in certain areas of the brain that affect movement, mood, and thinking skills, all caused by a defective gene on of the 23 human chromosomes in a person’s genetic code.


Unfortunately, the disease is something that gets passed down through genetics. Anyone who inherits it from a parent will eventually develop the disease.


Symptoms associated with Huntington’s disease usually develops between the ages of 30 and 50 but can appear as early as 2 or as late as 80. Some of the common symptoms associated with the disease include uncontrolled movement of the arms, legs, head, face, and upper body. It also will likely lead to a decline in cognitive skills and affect processes such as memory, concentration, judgement, and more.


Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is a form of a rare, fatal brain disorder known as prion diseases. It is the most common form of this type of disorder.


Prion diseases like this one occur in the prion protein, which is found throughout the body. The protein folds into an abnormal three-dimensional shape. The misfolded prion protein destroys brain cells and the damage that results from this causes a decline in cognitive function processes including thinking and reasoning. It can lead to issues such as involuntary muscle movements, confusion, difficulty walking, and mood changes.


Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease causes a type of dementia in the body that gets worse rapidly. Other common causes of dementia such as Alzheimer’s and Lewy body dementia typically progress more slowly.


Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is rare and only affects about one in one million people worldwide.


Now What?

Dementia and korsakoff syndrome are a problem that millions across the country suffer from. It is something that impacts memory and judgement and can interfere with a person’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks. When the problem gets this severe it is recommended that you get the help of a caregiver or look for an assisted living facility that can help.


Assisted living facilities in New Mexico that can help is Landmark Senior Living. Landmark can offer residents access to care services such as memory care as well as social events to keep them happy and stimulated during this chapter of their lives. If you are interested in learning more about what Landmark has to offer, please visit our website and schedule a complimentary walkthrough of one of our facilities.


Learn More Here!


Topics: dementia care

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