Home > Report on incidence of alcohol-related brain injury.

Mongan, Deirdre (2011) Report on incidence of alcohol-related brain injury. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 39, Autumn 2011, p. 4.

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Alcohol-related brain injury (ARBI) is a term used to describe physical impairment to the brain sustained as a result of alcohol consumption. The two most common conditions associated with ARBI are: Wernicke’s encephalopathy, an acute condition caused by a lack of thiamine and which causes confusion, ataxia and disturbance of the muscles controlling eye movement; and Korsakoff’s amnesic syndrome, a chronic condition that leads to difficulty in learning new information, memory loss and confabulation. Other associated conditions include cerebellar atrophy, peripheral neuropathy, hepatic encephalopathy and frontal lobe dysfunction.  

The North West Alcohol Forum (NWAF) recently published the results of research they commissioned in relation to ARBI in three counties in the Health Service Executive (HSE) West Region (Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim) and the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) area in Northern Ireland.1
Data from all acute hospitals in both areas for 2005–2009 were obtained to determine the incidence of ARBI. 
There were 163 ARBI admissions to acute hospitals in the three HSE West counties and 151 in the WHSCT area in that period. The report does not give population rates. In both areas the majority of admissions were male (68% in the HSE West and 62% in the WHSCT area) and were aged over 55 years.
A number of interviews were conducted with health professionals who highlighted the difficulties in obtaining accurate data on the incidence of ARBI and the potential for under-reporting. They also stated that there are currently no defined care pathways for people with ARBI in either area. As a result, ‘people with a high level of care needs may be placed in inappropriate care settings such as older people’s homes or dementia care settings’.  
The authors conclude that there is anecdotal evidence that the prevalence of ARBI is growing but that there is no systematic way of capturing data conclusively; that there is no co-ordinated approach to treating patients with ARBI due to the absence of a clear pathway of care; and that ‘the lack of agreement as to whether ARBI is considered a mental health condition or a brain injury results in a dilemma as to which pathway of care the patient should follow’. 
1. North West Alcohol Forum (2011) Assessment of incidences of alcohol-related brain injury (ARBI) in the HSE West (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim) and Western Health and Social Care Trust areas. Donegal: North West Alcohol Forum. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/15440/

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