Is it Alzheimer’s? 5 Treatable Conditions Mistaken for Alzheimer’s

Posted by on February 7, 2013 under Caregiver Corner | Be the First to Comment

Are you concerned about increasing forgetfulness?  Is your loved one showing signs of Dementia?  If you’re afraid you’re overreacting, you’re not alone: according to the Sun Herald, a recent report looked at nearly 1,000 people with Dementia and found that up to 30% didn’t have Alzheimer’s Disease.  Instead, the true culprits were treatable medical conditions that caused Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, including negative reactions to medication.

worried woman image courtesy of stockimages /

image courtesy of stockimages /

Some treatable medical conditions include:

  1. Vitamin deficiencies.  Extremely low levels of folic acid, niacin, or vitamins B-1, B-6 or B-12 can cause Alzheimer’s-like symptoms.  Not sure what your vitamin levels are?  Ask your doctor for a blood test to rule a vitamin deficiency out!  According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, older people are at a higher risk for low levels of B-6 and B-12.
  2. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs).  A lesser-known culprit, bladder infections can cause delirium in the elderly.  And when incontinence is part of the diagnosis, signs and symptoms of a bladder or urinary tract infection can be hard to spot.  Need to check?  Contact your doctor right away if you have any suspicions.  Signs and symptoms in the elderly can include sudden onset confusion, loss of appetite, or incontinence.  Untreated UTIs can lead to kidney damage or even life-threatening blood infections, so don’t hesitate to call your doctor if you’re concerned.
  3. Underactive Thyroid.  20% of women and 5% of men over 60 suffer from an underactive thyroid gland, which slows down the metabolism to unhealthy levels.  This condition, called hypothyroidism, can cause fatigue, weakness, depression and forgetfulness.  A simple blood test to check hormone levels is all it takes to rule this condition out.
  4. Depression.  Depression in the elderly is a widespread problem, but it’s not normal.  Many common symptoms of depression can be part of the aging process, making it difficult to detect and diagnose.  Some of the most visible symptoms include fatigue, appetite loss, and trouble sleeping, all of which can increase confusion and forgetfulness.  Fortunately, when diagnosed, depression is very treatable – just ask your doctor do a depression evaluation.
  5. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH).  Another underdiagnosed condition, NPH may be difficult to pronounce, but thankfully it’s not as difficult to treat.   NPH is an abnormal increase of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, which happens when the normal flow is blocked in some way.  The elderly are a high-risk group for NPH, although it can happen at any age; causes include head trauma, infection, tumors or surgery, among others.  The increased pressure on the brain causes symptoms that mimic Alzheimer’s, including mental impairment or dementia, difficulty walking or slower movements, and impaired bladder control.  Once the extra fluid is shunted away, behavior usually return to normal.  Only a medical professional can diagnose NPH.

In addition, some medications used to treat depression, anxiety, acid reflux, Parkinson’s disease, allergies and overactive bladder can trigger dementia-like side effects.  These drugs block acetylcholine, which Alzheimer’s patients already have in reduced levels.  Another medication that could be a culprit is digoxin – which is used to slow your heart rate if you have atrial fibrillation or heart failure. If you notice a change in behavior shortly after starting a new medicine regimen, call your doctor immediately.

For more information on Alzheimer’s signs and symptoms, visit the Alzheimer’s Association: