Conditions That Can Imitate Alzheimer’s Disease
Mike McClernonJun 21st, 2021
Living with Chronic Illness within an Assisted Living Community
Watching a family member start to lose their memory and other cognitive functions can be alarming and distressing. When you notice that they’re becoming frequently confused, slow, or disoriented, you may begin to suspect Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.
While this can sometimes be an accurate hypothesis (over 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease), it’s important not to assume Alzheimer’s disease immediately. There are several other diseases and conditions that disguise themselves as the neurodegenerative disease.
Some of these disorders produce symptoms so similar to Alzheimer’s that even doctors are fooled. Because of this, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of what some of these conditions are and how they can present themselves in a family member.
As a Senior Living Advisor on Dementia and Memory Care Communities on Long Island, Assisted Living Locators of Long Island is sharing some of the conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s disease and what to do if you believe they are impacting your loved one.
Medication Side Effects
If you’ve noticed that your family member has gotten more confused, slow, or just seems to be in a general “fog,” a new medication could be the culprit. Certain medications can cause increased confusion, drowsiness, and balance problems, all of which can be dementia and Alzheimer’s disease-related symptoms.
The medications usually responsible for these side effects include any drugs affecting a person’s mental state—like antidepressants and sleep medications—as well as medications with anticholinergic properties, which block neurotransmitters in the brain. Anticholinergics can be especially risky because they are used for a range of conditions, including allergies, incontinence, COPD, and motion sickness.
What You Can Do
Fortunately, undesirable side effects after introducing a new medication are usually easy for both a family member and a doctor to detect. If you notice that your family member is having “brain fog” and dementia-like symptoms and know they’ve recently started a new medicine regimen, talk to their doctor about finding a new medication plan that would still treat their underlying condition without the adverse side effects.
Usually, when the offending medication is replaced, the symptoms will subside, and regular cognitive functioning will return.
Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is a rare brain disorder often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. It occurs when fluid builds up in the brain, causing a decline in thinking skills, difficulty processing information and completing tasks, and a lack of interest in activities. Because the symptoms of NPH so closely mirror those of Alzheimer’s, less than 20% of people with NPH are correctly diagnosed. However, it can be reasonably confidently diagnosed with brain imaging and other tests.
What You Can Do
Fortunately, NPH is one of the few brain disorders that can be managed and reversed with proper treatment. After surgery, many people with NPH find their dementia-like symptoms improving. However, it’s important to remember that NPH is rare and difficult to diagnose properly, so speak with your family member’s doctor to get more insight into their specific situation.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Pernicious anemia is a rare disorder caused by a severe Vitamin B12 deficiency. It can cause symptoms that imitate Alzheimer’s disease, including confusion, slowness, apathy, and behavior changes. Vitamin B12 deficiencies in older adults are not necessarily caused by a lack of B12 in the diet but rather an inability to absorb the nutrients from what they’re eating.
What You Can Do
Fortunately, pernicious anemia can be cared for, and the symptoms can be reversed with proper treatment, which usually involves Vitamin B12 injections to ensure the body receives the nutrients. Speak with your family member’s doctor if you believe a Vitamin B12 deficiency could be the culprit for their memory loss symptoms. Other indications could be yellowing skin, excessive fatigue, and numbness or tingling in the hands and feet.
Sometimes, the symptoms you notice in your loved one that you believe to be signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease could simply be typical signs of aging. In most adults, it’s normal to become more forgetful with age, even losing everyday items or having trouble making decisions. If you notice your family member is only forgetful some of the time and still seems to be independent and sharp, it’s most likely not a cause for concern.
However, if your loved one becomes increasingly confused, unable to have a conversation, manage plans and finances, or has difficulty keeping track of where they are, there could be something more serious at play. Discuss with the doctor any warning signs that you have noticed that indicate memory loss or dementia.
Understanding All Outcomes
While there’s a chance that your loved one is experiencing a condition that imitates Alzheimer’s, there’s also a chance that it is Alzheimer’s disease, so you should be prepared for any diagnosis. Also, remember that not every type of dementia is Alzheimer’s.
Coming to terms with an Alzheimer’s—or any other memory loss—diagnosis can be challenging for the whole family. Assisted Living Locators of Long Island works closely with families to find the right Memory and Dementia Care Community for them. We assess each family’s unique needs and match them with a Community that will best meet them.
To discover more about our free Memory Care Placement Service on Long Island, contact us today.