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May 03, 2018

5 Conditions that Mimic Dementia

If you’re concerned about memory loss and the health of your brain, you’ve likely done some research and read the many news articles on the latest about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, it’s not the only cause. And you may be surprised to know there are several treatable conditions that present with symptoms of dementia.

5 treatable conditions that mimic dementia

Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH): This condition happens when there is excessive cerebrospinal fluid in the brain’s ventricles. The excess fluid can cause the ventricles to enlarge, which causes symptoms. NPH is referred to as normal because the fluid pressure appears as normal during a spinal tap.

Symptoms: Difficulty walking (often the first symptom), difficulty thinking (slowing thought processes, reduced concentration, impaired decision making, loss of bladder control.

How it’s treated: A brain MRI is usually used to diagnose NPH. Treatment can consist of a shunt to drain excess fluid from the brain into the abdomen.

Urinary tract infection: Though classic urinary tract infection symptoms like burning and pain are usually present with an infection, some older adults can experience confusion and changes in thinking instead.

Symptoms: Usually pain and burning on urination, the urgent need to urinate and pelvic pain. Non-classic urinary tract infection symptoms can include agitation, lethargy, decreased mobility and incontinence.

How it’s treated: Antibiotics

Depression: While depression can cause telltale symptoms of a loss of interest in things you used to enjoy or a persistent feeling of sadness, fatigue, or loss of appetite, depression can sometimes cause cognitive impairment or confusion.

How it’s treated: If you think you or someone you know might be dealing with depression, get evaluated by your doctor. Treatments can include medications, cognitive behavior therapy, stress reduction techniques and exercise.

Certain medications: Believe it or not, several medication side effects can cause memory problems or confusion. These include:

  • Prescription painkillers
  • Anti-anxiety medication
  • Antihistamines like Benadryl
  • Sleeping pills, both over the counter and prescription

How it’s treated: Be sure to tell your doctor of all the medications you’re taking—even over-the-counter ones. If you notice concerning side effects after starting a new medication, talk to you doctor. If you’re taking a prescribed medication, talk with your doctor before discontinuing it.

The Use of Alcohol: Though you might think you tolerate alcohol like you once did, alcohol—whether it’s binge drinking or a nightly glass of wine—affects you differently than when you were younger. Also, if you engaged in heavy drinking for a period of time, that can lead to memory problems.

How it’s treated: If you notice cognitive-related side effects after drinking, take steps to stop or cut back on your alcohol consumption. If you have had or are experiencing a drinking problem, talk to your doctor about how it can be treated.

Changes in cognitive function can be scary, but before you conclude you’re dealing with dementia, talk to you doctor. You might find an easily treatable issue causing your problem.

Brain health questions answered

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