Early Identification of Alcohol Use Disorder Patients at Risk of Developing Korsakoff's Syndrome

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2021 Mar;45(3):587-595. doi: 10.1111/acer.14548. Epub 2021 Feb 2.


Background: The aim of the present study was to determine whether the Brief Evaluation of Alcohol-Related Neuropsychological Impairments (BEARNI), a screening tool developed to identify neuropsychological deficits in alcohol use disorder (AUD) patients, can also be used for the early identification of AUD patients at risk of developing Korsakoff's syndrome (KS).

Methods: Eighteen KS patients, 47 AUD patients and 27 healthy controls underwent BEARNI testing (including 5 subtests targeting episodic memory, working memory, executive function, visuospatial abilities, and ataxia) and a comprehensive neuropsychological examination.

Results: Performance of AUD and KS patients on BEARNI subtests was consistent with the results on the standardized neuropsychological assessment. On BEARNI, ataxia and working memory deficits observed in AUD were as severe as those exhibited by KS patients, whereas for visuospatial abilities, a graded effect of performance was found. In contrast, the subtests involving long-term memory abilities (episodic memory and fluency) were impaired in KS patients only. AUD patients with a score lower than 1.5 points (out of 6) on the episodic memory subtest of BEARNI exhibited the lowest episodic memory performance on the neuropsychological battery and could be considered at risk of developing KS.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that BEARNI is a useful tool for detecting severe memory impairments, suggesting that it could be used for the early identification of AUD patients at high risk of developing KS.

Keywords: Alcohol Use Disorder; BEARNI; Korsakoff’s Syndrome; Neuropsychological Assessment.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis*
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Korsakoff Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Korsakoff Syndrome / psychology*
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests*
  • Risk Factors