What is Korsakoff’s Syndrome?

Korsakoff’s syndrome or Wernicke’s-Korsakoff’s syndrome is the most well-known form of Alcohol-Related Brain Damage (ARBD). It is a brain disorder commonly associated with a long period of continuous heavy drinking, attributed by a lack of Thiamine.

In recent years, the condition has been referred to as Korsakoff’s psychosis; however, this is confusing as korsakoff’s has no psychotic medical symptoms.

What causes Korsakoff’s Syndrome?

Many heavy drinkers have poor eating habits and an inadequate diet, which often results in the body becoming depleted in a lack of essential vitamins. Consumption and long term alcohol abuse can also potentially cause the stomach lining to inflame. Which then makes it harder for the body to absorb these essential vitamins, in particular, vitamin B1. Vitamin B1 also called Thiamine, is responsible for converting food into energy and has many critical neurological benefits too.

Korsakoff’s syndrome is the chronic form of Wernicke’s encephalopathy and is sometimes referred to as alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) or dementia. Korsakoff’s may result if Wernicke’s encephalopathy is not treated or is not detected in time. It is not quickly resolved and can continue over a long period, even permanently. Damage occurs to small but essential areas in the middle part of the brain, which causes short-term severe memory loss. However, many other abilities remain unaffected. This is the difference between Korsakoff’s and most types of dementia, where these conditions damage a large area of the outer part of the brain.

Symptoms of Korsakoff’s Syndrome include:

  • Difficulty with taking on board new information or developing new skills
  • Lack of insight into their memory loss, where even someone with significant gaps in their memory may believe that they are functioning normally
  • Apathy or repetitive behaviours
  • Sensory problems, where they may encounter hallucinations
  • Confabulation; where someone fills out the gaps in their memory with elaborate stories but believes what they are saying is true
  • Unsteady gait – walking may become unsteady and slow, sometimes people with Korsakoff’s can appear almost drunk and disorientated.  Mobility can become poor and assistance to stand may be required.
  • Double vision

What is the treatment for people living with Korsakoff’s Syndrome and other ARBD conditions?

Notaro ARBD Care does not offer detoxification and anyone admitted to our homes, needs to be fully detoxed and fully abstaining from alcohol before admission is agreed.

Our homes provide a way forward to help and support rebuild people’s life skills. Our 3 ARBD residential support homes follow our 3-step recovery programme, which includes monitoring and assessing the impact our programme is having on each resident.

Notaro ARBD support workers engage with each individual, daily, to maximise the opportunity for them to return to an independent life in the community.  They do this by engaging and encouraging them in daily activities and goal setting with each person.   Key workers meet with residents regularly, tailored to each individual, to identify key areas that need support.  Together key workers and residents set goals with an agreed review date.  Review times will very much depend on the size of the goal.  Once the goal has been achieved and evidenced, a new goal is discussed and agreed.  All evidence and discussions are noted in the individual’s support plan and 3-step programme.

Our ARBD homes support and prompt medication, GP and hospital appointments and resident’s emotional wellbeing and mental health.  Whilst we can offer emotional well-being in daily practice, such as meetings to talk and offload, actual therapeutic remedies need to be referred to registered practices.  We can signpost to outside agencies such as additional abstinence groups and accompany to the appointments with residents but it is important to note, we do not provide this within the homes.

The homes are all well connected and linked to local agencies and community groups, and receive visits regularly from such organisations. Our residents attend back to work workshops and some attend college to gain qualifications to help them back into work.  This ongoing support both inside the homes and externally is tailored and structured to help each person build upon their life skills, which will enable them to move into supported living and all being well, eventually their own home, once again.

It is very important to mention, that for some people living with ARBD, such as Korsakoff’s Syndrome, no amount of goal setting will help them recover and for these individuals, we are able to provide a home for life.

To view our homes that provide specialist residential support for people living with Korsakoff’s Syndrome, such as Vane Hill located in Torquay, or Serenita or Campania both located in Weston-super-Mare, please click here.