Saturday, 25 February 2012

Korsakoff’s Dementia

 Reading an entertaining entry on a fellow blogger's blog reminded me of a lady I "nursed" while I was  on student placement to The Merseyside alcohol dependency unit  at The West Cheshire Psychiatric Hospital in the 1980s.
Sylvia was one of those ex colonial types, with a cut glass accent, a weather beaten face and  the kind of spirit that made Britain what it was during the 1930s and 1940s, an arrogant world power.
She was, opinionated and racist, in that old fashioned sort of way that made you smile at her rather than it provoking an angry response towards her, and she had spent her life of privilege in colonial Malaya , for 40 years pickled in pink gin.

God knows just why she had been admitted to the unit. She was far too long in the tooth at 83 to successfully give up alcohol, even I as a student realised that fact, but I suspect that she had been "encouraged " to enter rehab for a formal assessment, as it was suspected that she was suffering from the start of Korsakoff’s dementia.
People suffering from Korsakoff's dementia lack vitamin B 1 due to their alcoholism, and treatment , as I recall is a combination of vitamin supplements, good nutrition and plenty of rest in addition to the "talking therapies" which aim to explore the cause of their drinking behaviour.
"Talking Therapy" was not something that Sylvia took too seriously as I recall

People that have Korsakoff's, often have great gaps in their memory which they cover up with confabulating history accounts.
In one morning group session I remember one Liverpudlian patient asking her just how much she drank before her admission
In her best Maggie Smith delivery Sylvia announced loudly and with some conviction to the group
"If you must know ......I only ever had a few little drinkies after meals!"
The Liverpudlian, missed nothing from her vague reply
"and how many meals a day did you actually have?" he asked with a smile
"34!" Sylvia called out  with a triumphant cackle


  1. See the conflict there John?

    Yes she was an alchoholic but she was 83!! It's a wonder any of the youth out there today take these important life-saving health warnings seriously when folk reach that age and still enjoy a (staggering amount) of 'little drinkies' every night. :-)

  2. that is an amazing age to reach considering she was an alcoholic...maybe we all need to start taking a few little drinkies.

  3. Amazing what ripe (and fun) old ages well cared for folks can reach.

  4. I attended the PM of a deceased Korsakoff dementia patient (Wernicke's alcoholic encephalopathy) - of course he was dead, silly boy, we wern't into PM's on live patients then - anyhoo, when they cut off his skull cap and removed his brained all the the MO removed was a shrunken brain (about a third normal size)and had the consistency of clear gelatin.

    I know it made me think, briefly, each Friday night when we went out on our regular booze up.

    That was before we found out that 'binge drinking was as bad for you as the regular daily over-imbiber.

  5. I love that story.
    Just off for a little meal...

  6. What a fabulous (lucky)old gal!
    Jane x

  7. How strange. Whenever anyone asks me if I could give up drinking, I always reply. "Korsican!"

  8. There's my problem. I'm just not having enough meals.

  9. I adore this paragraph: "She was, opinionated and racist, in that old fashioned sort of way that made you smile at her rather than it provoking an angry response towards her, and she had spent her life of privilege in colonial Malaya , for 40 years pickled in pink gin."

    You have a nifty way of writing about old birds, John. I do admire that about you. Someone like this would make a terrific heroine for a novel.

  10. Very interesting story, John. :)

  11. ....there's Pink Gin?????

  12. I laughed and I winced. Sylvia reminde me strongly of my mother. And the gaps? She completely believed the confabulations that she filled them with. Stronger than granite they were.

  13. Do you drink a lot?

    No, I sp-sp-spill m-most of it!

  14. Would love to have met her!

  15. John - you almost always manage to make me laugh out loud. Seems to me you have really seen life in your job. I feel a bit the same about teaching in what used to be called an ESN school. We had one poor lad who used to be sewn into his shirt on a Monnday morning and he kept it on all week. As he was largely incontinent you can imagine Friday afternoons. I often wondered what happened to him in later life.

  16. My favorite patient was a chap with Korsakoffs.

    I remember the day he persuaded me to take him to "my lawyers office" with a mixture of fondness and embarrassment.

  17. As I get older I plan to increase the amount of 'bad' things I do. I may never manage 34 meals a day though....made me smile

  18. I'll betcha all those meals she ate explains her longevity, in spite of her self-pickling attempts over the year.


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