Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Lexicon of Madness -- Korsakoff's Syndrome
Korsakoff's Syndrome: An amnestic disorder associated with prolonged, heavy use of alcohol. Afflicted persons demonstrate impairment in the ability to encode novel experiences into long-term memory. They suffer from both retrograde amnesia (loss of ability to recall stored memories) and anterograde amnesia (the inability to make new memories). Often, the amnesia is accompanied by apathy, lack of insight (i.e., they are not aware that they have memory problems), and confabulation. When a patient with Korsakoff's confabulates, he provides exaggerated or absurd responses to questions about his recent autobiographical past. When asked what he did last weekend, he might reply, "I ran away and joined the circus." It has been suggested that confabulation is an unconscious process that attempts to reconcile the patient's belief that he should know what he did last weekend with his inability to recall any details of that time period. The actual cause of the disorder is nutritional (Vitamin B1/thiamine) deficiency, which is often associated with chronic alcoholism. It has been suggested that fortifying alcoholic beverages with thiamine could prevent new cases of Korsakoff's. Treatment with intravenous thiamine may help reduce negative effects in some patients, but for many the condition is irreversible and completely incapacitating. The disorder was named after Russian neuropsychiatrist Sergei Korsakoff (1854-1900).