New report on ‘invisible condition’

A ground-breaking new study suggests that at least 200 people in Donegal may have had an alcohol-related brain injury in recent years, a condition the report said has been under-diagnosed in Ireland.

A ground-breaking new study suggests that at least 200 people in Donegal may have had an alcohol-related brain injury in recent years, a condition the report said has been under-diagnosed in Ireland.

Eamon O’Kane, director of the North West Alcohol Forum, which published the study, said the research came about because the organisation believed the lack of accurate research was impairing the diagnosis of alcohol-related brain injury (ARBI) within the north-west and cross-border region.

“Our report outlines how best to respond and highlights best practice actions and recommendations that would greatly improve the care of patients with ARBI in this country,” Mr. O’Kane said.

This is believed to be the first study of its kind in Ireland into ARBI, a term used to described physical impairment to the brain sustained as a direct result of excessive or chronic alcohol consumption.

ARBI is often described as “the invisible condition”. “There are quite a number of symptoms, and this is what makes it quite difficult to diagnose, Mr. O’Kane said. He said symptoms can include mental confusion or loss of balance, tingling of hands and feet, depression and emotional mood swings, abnormal involuntary eye movements and drowsiness.

The report found that for the period from 2005 to 2009, 104 Donegal residents were admitted to hospital and diagnosed with ARBI. For the Health Service Executive North West region, including Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon, that figure was 163.

Research also indicated that ARBI may account for 10 percent of the dementia population and for 12.5 percent of dementia cases among people under age 65. This would suggest that in Donegal there may be up to 147 patients with an ARBI within this group alone.

Mr. O’Kane said the report will be distributed to government departments. He said the forum hopes the study will lead to a national study of the problem, coupled with a national policy on treatment.

“We hope to influence some policy and decision-making,” he said.