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Alcohol brain damage warning

Experts have warned that thousands of Scots are suffering from alcohol-related brain damage but are not being correctly diagnosed.

A new report warns that the numbers are increasing and those affected are getting younger because of increasing problems with alcohol and binge drinking.

In 2007, there were 538 recorded cases of alcohol- related brain damage (ARBD) in Scotland, compared with 367 in 1998.

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Figures reveal that one patient was just 28 – despite the fact the condition would ordinarily take 10 years of constant heavy drinking to develop.

The study, to be launched today by the Mental Welfare Commission and the Scottish Association for Mental Health, found that in some cases people were inappropriately treated. Many of those affected are mis-diagnosed with dementia and have been left in care homes, rather than being offered treatment.

Susan Forest, an operations manager for the Scottish Association for Mental Health and an ARBD specialist, said: “Scotland has the highest incidence of ARBD in the western world. This is a volcano ready to erupt.

“In general, people are saying there is a lack of consistency across the country in how people are diagnosed and treated. Without clear and consistent assessments, the treatment pathways are not clear. In so many people it just goes undiagnosed.

“The Scottish relationship with alcohol is a big problem. In real-ity there are thousands of people across Scotland with ARBD but the stats don’t reflect this as it is not diagnosed. The reality is that we have a nation in crisis because of the alcohol problems.”

She added: “People diagnosed are also getting younger. Although it traditionally takes seven to 10 years to develop, the figures show there was one man of 28 with ARBD.”

The condition presents itself in different forms but often relates to memory loss, confusion, disorientation and staggering movements. It is exacerbated by poor diet.

The report states: “There are few very few dedicated services for people with ARBD … the majority of the people we saw were residents of care homes. Many people with acute brain injury and ARBD are under 65 and are not suited to mainstream care homes which are mostly for older people.”

Donald Lyons, chairman of the Mental Welfare Commission, added: “There were some people languishing in care which is not addressing their needs because they are not getting diagnosed or treated. It is both preventable and treatable. With vitamin supplements, abstention from alcohol and improved diet people can continue to improve.

“It is far more common than the statistics suggest and there may be a huge number of people with very subtle degrees of damage but who are significantly affected and undiagnosed. The real issue is that it needs to be clearly identified and treated. The longer you leave it untreated, the more likely it is that there will be permanent damage.”

The total cost of alcohol misuse in Scotland is estimated to be around £3.56 billion, or £900 for every adult in the country. On average, Scotland sees 115 hospital admissions every day related to alcohol misuse.

The Neilson report on alcohol sales over 2005-09, published last month, showed that adult Scots buy on average 24% more alcohol than the rest of Britain.

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