New alcohol dementia warnings welcomed by Swanswell

15 July 2014

Swanswell’s welcoming new NHS proposals to warn people about the risks of alcohol dementia, as part of a health MOT given from the age of 40.

But the national recovery charity, which wants to achieve a society free from problem alcohol and drug use, is encouraging health services to make this information available to everyone to minimise the risk of it happening in the first place.

It comes as the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests in new guidance that advice about lifestyles should be included in health checks currently offered to all patients aged between 40 and 74 (The Telegraph).

It includes a specific mention to warn middle-aged patients that ‘there is no safe level of alcohol consumption’ in relation to their future dementia risk, and encourages them to ‘…reduce the amount they drink as much as possible.’

The proposals are part of wider changes to improve lifestyles and reduce the chance of dementia, and follows research which suggests one in three Alzheimer’s cases could be prevented by changes such as doing more exercise and quitting smoking.

Brought on by regular alcohol use, alcohol dementia is a condition similar to other forms of dementia, often making diagnosis difficult.

However, if it’s caught early enough and with the right treatment, the effects can potentially be reversed – and in many cases, people can return to independent living (Smith I and Hillman A., 1999).

Research suggests alcohol dementia affects around 10% of all dementia cases in the UK (Lishman WA., 1990) , but even more alarming is that it accounts for about 12.5% of all dementia cases in the under 65s (Harvey RJ, Rossor MN, Skelton-Robinson M and Garralda E., 1998). Swanswell’s youngest case was 27.

Debbie Bannigan, Swanswell’s Chief Executive, said: ‘We’re pleased that alcohol dementia is being recognised by the health service and we think the recommended warnings are a positive step forward.

However, we’d encourage decision-makers to make this information available to everyone – at any age – so they’re aware of the potential risks associated with drinking any amount of alcohol, particularly those linked to an increased chance of dementia.

We’re aware of alcohol dementia cases in people as young as 27, so it makes sense to offer education before they start drinking, helping them make informed decisions about their relationship with alcohol and reducing the risk of the condition happening at all.’

Swanswell’s developing a model of treatment for people already affected by alcohol dementia, which could help them return to independent living and improve their quality of life.

Debbie added: ‘With proper investment in research, diagnosis and treatment, decision-makers could help make alcohol dementia a thing of the past, but we all have a part to play – it’s not something anyone can tackle on their own.’

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