Also known as Korsakoff’s dementia, amnesic confabulatory syndrome or Korsakoff’s psychosis, Korsakoff’s syndrome is a neurological disorder caused by a deficiency of vitamin B1 (thiamine) in the brain. It is also associated with severe malnutrition, alcohol abuse or both.
The prevalence of Korsakoff’s syndrome is estimated to be somewhere between 0.8-3% of the population and it varies from country to country.
Symptoms and Signs
There are six important symptoms but memory loss is the main symptom.
And the memory loss includes both anterograde amnesia (the loss of ability to form new memories) and retrograde amnesia (loss of memories stored before the condition occured).
Another important symptom of the syndrome is confabulation which means people invent memories and take them for real. At first, scientists believed it is because of the gaps in the memory which the patients sometimes try to fill. But it was found that amnesia and confabulation are not always occurring together.a
Other symptoms of Korsakoff’s syndrome include:
- Lack of insight
- Minimal content in conversations
- Apathy which means the patient is indifferent to change and easily loses interest in anything
It is called Wernicke – Korsakoff’s syndrome when Korsakoff’s syndrome is accompanied by Wernicke’s encephalopathy.
Wernicke – Korsakoff’s syndrome affects 1 in 8 people with alcoholism. People affected are most often men with ages between 45 and 65 with a long history of alcohol abuse.
Korsakoff’s syndrome involves neuronal loss, hemorrhage in mammillary bodies and gliosis.
Other than severe malnutrition and chronic alcoholism the causes of Korsakoff’s syndrome include effects of chemotherapy, eating disorders, prolonged vomiting and dietary deficiencies.
Though they are rare, lesions of the central nervous system might also cause symptoms of Korsakoff’s syndrome.
There are a few factors that increase the risks of developing Korsakoff’s syndrome such as
- Extreme dieting
- Genetic factors.
For a correct diagnosis a person should stop drinking for several weeks. The first steps include a medical history, lab tests and a physical exam. Psychological tests of memory are also needed. Then the person will be observed to see if the condition improves after the person stopped drinking.
Sometimes when the condition gets worse people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia. Anyway it is possible for a person to have both dementia and Korsakoff’s syndrome.
The treatment involves proper nutrition and hydration along with supplementation of thiamin.
Many times patients with Korsakoff’s syndrome require full-time care. Rehabilitation can help sometimes regain some level of independence.
Unfortunately only in 20% of the cases the disorder might be reversed. When treatment is successful the improvement is visible in 2 years but recovery is most often incomplete and slow.
Most often the immediate treatment includes intravenous or intramuscular injections of B-complex vitamins for 2-3 days, administered 3 times a day. Then the treatment will consist in oral administration of thiamine for 3 to 12 months.
People with Korsakoff’s syndrome might also need long-term treatment for other effects of the alcohol abuse like liver damage for example.
In order to avoid and prevent the development of Korsakoff’s syndrome vitamin B deficiency should be avoided which are most often caused by weight disorders and alcoholism.