What is Korsakoff Syndrome?

Written by Active Minds on Wednesday the 18th of April 2018.


Named after its discoverer, the Russian neuropsychiatrist Sergie Korsakoff, Korsakoff is a relatively unknown form of dementia. The syndrome accounts for roughly 10% of dementia cases in people aged between 45 – 65, affecting more men than women. It is a form of Alcohol-Related Brain Damage (ARBD) and is often developed as part of a condition called Wernicke’s encephalopathy, though not always.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy usually occurs very suddenly, after an abrupt withdrawal from alcohol. People with encephalopathy may experience confusion, memory loss, poor balance, and jerky eye movements. It can be very hard to diagnose, and failure to treat quickly usually results in Korsakoff syndrome developing.


How does Korsakoff syndrome occur?

Thiamine (vitamin B-1) helps our brain cells produce energy from sugar. When these levels fall too low, our brain cells cannot generate enough energy to function properly and Korsakoff syndrome occurs. The syndrome is most commonly associated with alcoholism, which depletes the body of thiamine, but can also be linked to other long-term illnesses such as AIDS, chronic infections and eating disorders.

What are the symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome?

Korsakoff affects a person’s memory, causing them to have problems learning new information and remembering events. However, their thinking or social skills will generally remain unaffected.  People with Korsakoff may also confabulate, meaning they make up information they can’t remember or where there are gaps in their memory. These confabulations are not lies, they often genuinely believe what they are saying.


The good news is that if Wernicke’s encephalopathy is caught in the early stages and treatment is given in time the symptoms can be reversed, with about 25% of those who develop the syndrome recovering. Treatment involves the replacement of thiamine into the body, either orally, intravenously or via injection. Patients who have been diagnosed with the syndrome due to alcohol consumption will need to stop drinking alcohol and make significant changes to their nutritional intake.


Korsakoff syndrome can also be prevented from occurring by cutting down on alcohol intake and adding a lot of vitamin b1 rich foods to your diet, such as legumes, oranges and eggs.