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Korsakoffs Syndrome

What is Korsakoffs Syndrome?

Korsakoff’s Syndrome is a severe memory disorder that is associated with excessive, long-term alcohol misuse resulting in the loss of specific brain functions due to the lack of vitamin B1 or thiamine. Korsakoff’s syndrome is included under the umbrella term Alcohol Related Brain Damage.

Korsakoff’s syndrome presents as the end-stage development of a disorder known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy. In 1881 Karl Wernicke a neurologist and psychiatrist in Germany, noticed three key symptoms in patients suffering with alcoholism:

 Mental Confusion
Eye Movement Disorders
Ataxia – uncoordinated movements

Later, S.S. Korsakoff, a Russian psychiatrist, reported a new cluster of symptoms in patients with severe alcoholism:
 Anterograde Amnesia: An inability to form new memories.
 Confabulation: Making up memories to fill in gaps in memory.
Apathy: Lack of spontaneity, or repetitive behaviour.

By 1900 the two syndromes were connected as the first and second phases of the same condition and became known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. 85% of Wernicke encephalopathy survivors go on to develop Korsakoff syndrome.

Once treatment is administered, initially in the form of large doses of thiamine, the progress of the disease can be halted only if alcohol is not taken. Any improvement in the person’s life and interpersonal skills may take up to two years of treatment.

Korsakoff sufferers are capable of new learning on some levels, particularly if they live in a calm, predictable and well structured environment, where any new information is cued with either visual or verbal prompts.

Potens offers the Arbennig Unit for people with Korsakoffs Syndrome, please see our Arbennig Unit page for further information, or contact us to find out more or to make a referral.

The Potens Support Model at the Arbennig Unit in North Wales

Using 6 Principles of Care:

Abstinence – Staff will support residents to work on the issues which led them into alcohol misuse and to develop relapse prevention strategies, with close involvement of local services and Care Managers. A No Alcohol policy will be enforced to prevent further impairment.

Daily Living Skills – By using FIM FAM UK and providing a structured and predictable environment, residents are supported to carry out all daily living skills using previous skills through preserved implicit memory, and where possible learning new skills.

Improvements in Health – Improvements in mental and physical health to enable optimum performance in rehabilitation. To achieve this, close liaison with GP, Consultant Psychiatrist, Care Managers and Dietician will be facilitated and maintained.

Meaningful Activities – Staff will encourage residents to participate in alcohol free activities, within the local and wider community.

Family, Friends and Professional Involvement – Where appropriate, to use family and friends to ensure complete life history is available, so that support can be based on a person’s whole life – before and after diagnosis, with emphasis on explicit memory. In addition to develop and/or recover family relationships if deemed to be beneficial for all parties.

Everyday Memory Functioning – To understand Anterograde Amnesia, and use practical everyday measures to make use of preserved implicit memory e.g. cues, arrows, whiteboards and household manuals.

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