How does Korsakoff Syndrome affect you?

You have probably never heard of Korsakoff’s syndrome unless you, or a loved one has been diagnosed with it. So, here’s all the basic information you need to know if you need to learn more about the disorder.

What is Korsakoff’s Syndrome?

Korsakoff’s syndrome is a condition usually associated with dementia through the chronic abuse of alcohol. Although the syndrome can indeed cause memory loss, it differs from other types of dementia in that it can be treated very successfully and sometimes, if caught soon enough, a full recovery is possible.

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Three facts worth knowing about Korsakoff’s Syndrome

1. Korsakoff syndrome accounts for 10 percent of dementia in young people aged 45-65, and it affects more men than women.

2. Korsakoff syndrome occurs due to a chronic vitamin B1 deficiency which affects the brain and nervous system. Vitamin B1 is also known as thiamine.

3. Although alcohol abuse is the most common cause, severe disorders such as anorexia nervosa, can also cause Korsakoff’s syndrome because they also deplete the body of essential vitamins.

Korsakoff’s syndrome got its name from the neuropsychiatrist Sergei Korsakoff from Russia, who discovered it in the 1800s. For information about caring for Korsakoff’s, and answers to the question What is Korsakoff Syndrome? – visit

What happens to the body

Heavy alcohol consumption reduces the amount of the essential vitamins in the body, including vitamin B1 (thiamine), which is needed for keeping the brain and nervous system healthy. Finally, the brain and the nervous system will not function properly, leading to a loss in memory as well as and other symptoms like balance problems, jerky movements of the eyes and changes in personality. When such symptoms present over time, it can be tough to recognise and respond to appropriately.  However, when they come on suddenly and get diagnosed properly, injections of high doses of thiamine can be given quickly with remarkable results, in some cases leading to a full recovery.

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The science behind the condition

Alcohol has the capacity to damage the nerve cells and blood vessels which can result in brain damage and shrinkage. However, Korsakoff’s syndrome and other so-called ‘alcohol related dementia’ does not always result in a slow, steady decline, as with an injection of vitamins, an improved diet, support and alcohol abstinence, further damage can be stopped and even improvements experienced. For this reason, scientists now prefer to call it ‘alcohol-related brain damage’ to refer to Korsakoff and other similar conditions that are not really dementia but dementia-like.

The good news

Korsakoff’s syndrome is not only treatable, it can also be prevented by cutting up on alcohol and improve your diet to include a lot of foods rich in vitamin B1.