Korsakoff`s syndrome

The Korsakoff`s syndrome (also known as Morbus Korsakoff or Amnestic syndrome) is a special form of Amnesia. It was first described by the Russian psychiatrist and neurologist Sergei Korsakoff (1854-1900) in a study about chronic alcoholics in 1887.

The disease can be placed under the category of “secondary dementia”. Here, changes in the brain structure, which cause the loss of memory, are caused by accidents, tumors or diseases (e. g. alcoholism or Wernicke encephalopathy).


Those affected often show reminder gaps, which they often fill with fictitious content (confabulating). This is also the point, where Korsakoff`s syndrome differs from other forms of Amnesia. The confabulation happens unconsciously and can reach so far, that people affected cannot distinguish between reality (e. g. a long hospital stay) and their confabulation (for example being at work) anymore.

The disease comes along with a combination of anterograde (new things cannot be kept in mind) and retrograde Amnesia (experiences and essential elements of the past memory will be forgotten). Most of those affected suffer from a distinct form of anterograde Amnesia. In worst case, even things spoken about only minutes before, can be forgotten. It also happens a lot, that missing memories were attached to past experiences, which also affects the confabulated content.

Other symptoms of Korsakoff´s syndrome are (among others) unsteadiness in walking, lack of drive, passivity / apathy, depression, mood swings, disorientation and disorders in the peripheral nervous system.


Most affected people are those, who suffer from a long-term period of alcoholism. The reason for the development of the Korsakoff`s syndrome is the chronic lack of thiamin (vitamin B1), which leads to damage in brain structure. Alcoholics tend to replace alcohol as main nourishment and do not eat properly. This often leads to a malnutrition, which enhances the possibility for encephalitis (e. g. in the Wernicke areal). The next step, if there would not be any treatment, is the Korsakoff`s syndrome. Also eating disorders, kidney diseases and tumors in the gastro-intestinal system can arise symptoms of the Korsakoff`s syndrome.

But also, brain damages according to accidents, strokes, tumors or encephalitis caused by viruses can evoke the Korsakoff`s syndrome.

Treatment and Prospects

After diagnosis, the administration of vitamin B1 can help to stem the symptoms. Additionally, the purpose of the chronic lack should be cured (alcoholism, eating disorder). Furthermore, psychotherapeutic and psychiatric treatment seems often helpful for those affected.

With the help of these methods there can be some improvements in the general state of health of people affected, but a complete reversal of the disease and the damage done in the brain structure cannot be achieved. In many cases people, who suffer from Korsakoff`s syndrome are that limited in their abilities that an autonomous daily life is no longer possible.