Swanswell estimates up to 100,000 patients mistakenly diagnosed with irreversible dementia

20 June 2011

Swanswell has estimated that up to 100,000 people in the UK could have been misdiagnosed with incurable forms of dementia, when in fact they are suffering from a condition that can potentially be reversed with the right treatment.

Swanswell, a national charity which wants to achieve a society free from problem alcohol and drug misuse, is launching a campaign to raise awareness of alcohol-related brain injury (ARBI) after publishing research in to the condition1.

ARBI has a range of symptoms similar to other forms of dementia and include memory loss, balance problems and irrational behaviour, making diagnosis difficult. The condition is brought on by prolonged, significant alcohol consumption.

There are 820,000 people with dementia in the UK2, and studies suggest that ARBI accounts for between ten and 12 per cent of cases3. This would suggest 80,000 to 100,000 patients could be affected by ARBI.

Maggie Philbin, science and technology expert and Swanswell Trustee , says the national charity believes many of these patients are mistakenly told they have degenerative dementia conditions.

Not many people are aware that regular drinking can lead to serious brain damage – it’s a frightening prospect.

However, diagnosed early and with the right treatment, the effects can be reversed. Studies show that with treatment a quarter of ARBI cases recover completely and another quarter recover enough to lead independent lives4.

Only a small proportion of ARBI sufferers are what Swanswell would consider to be heavy ‘street’ drinkers.

The charity’s helped people as young as 28, and a growing number of sufferers are women. People need to be aware that this can happen to them, and might already be happening to their loved ones.’

Swanswell’s developed a model of treatment for ARBI, and is currently seeking ethical approval to roll out three pilot studies later this year in the Midlands and South Yorkshire.


1. Swanswell (2010). The development of a multi-disciplinary programme for the treatment of alcohol related brain injury. Advances in 
Dual Diagnosis, Volume 3 Issue 2, May 2010: Peer Professional Ltd

2. Alzheimersresearch.org.uk, June 2011

3. Lishman WA (1990) Alcohol and the brain. British Journal of Psychiatry 156 635–644 and Harvey RJ, Rossor MN, Skelton-Robinson
M & Garralda E (1998) Young Onset Dementia: Epidemiology, clinical symptoms, family burden, support and outcome. London:
Imperial College Dementia Research Group.

4. Smith I & Hillman A (1999) Management of alcohol Korsakoff syndrome. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 5 271–278.







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