What is Korsakoff's Psychosis?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2018
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Korsakoff’s psychosis is often a lingering effect of a disorder called Wernicke's encephalopathy, although it can also develop spontaneously without any previous warning. The main symptom associated with Korsakoff’s psychosis is memory loss. The reason it is considered a psychosis is because the patients will often unknowingly invent false stories to replace their missing memories. It is known to cause more problems in short-term memories than in long-term ones. This disorder is caused by a deficiency in vitamin B1, which is usually a result of long-term alcoholism.

It can potentially take more than 20 years of alcohol abuse for Wernicke's encephalopathy to develop. This disorder can cause motor dysfunctions, including twitching and difficulty with basic tasks like walking. If the symptoms aren’t recognized quickly enough, it is not uncommon for patients to die, although sometimes people will recover without medical attention. For patients who wait too long before getting some kind of treatment, brain damage is a real possibility, and one of the most common effects of this brain damage is Korsakoff’s psychosis.

The actual damage happens to an area of the brain where scientists believe memories may be stored. Patients are usually able to remember all the important details of their past lives, but they begin losing memories shortly after the disorder develops. If the patient continues to abuse alcohol after developing Korsakoff’s psychosis, it’s very possible for the condition to worsen progressively.


Treating Korsakoff’s psychosis is generally approached with a two-part strategy. For starters, patients are usually asked to give up any kind of alcohol immediately. In addition, they may be required to take vitamin B1 supplements and eat a diet higher in vitamin B1. Sometimes patients can recover most of their memory faculty, but there are also many patients who have less substantial recoveries, and a few who never improve. The patients with the weakest recoveries may have to learn strategies for coping with an impaired memory, and a few of them may even need some kind of external help to get by in the world.

Scientists are generally uncertain about the full reasons for the development of Korsakoff’s psychosis. They have a general understanding that the vitamin B1 deficiency caused by alcoholism is the common trigger, but they don’t fully understand why it doesn’t develop for everybody who drinks. Some people can drink for their entire lives and never develop any problems. There are some experts who think this is because of nutritional variations in eating patterns, but there hasn’t been enough study to confirm this hypothesis.



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