Home > Diagnosis, Medical issues > Is It Really Dementia?

Is It Really Dementia?

A short time ago, I wrote about a case in which a man who was diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease turned out to actually have Normal pressure hydrocephalus.  There are a number of different conditions that present with symptoms similar to those seen in Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.  This is why it’s important to rule out these other conditions before a diagnosis of dementia is given.  It’s also a very significant reason why we need to continue the search for laboratory tests and brain imaging studies that help identify, without a doubt, that the person does have dementia — and also what form of dementia the person has.

I’ve listed here some of the more common conditions that can be mistaken for dementia.  This list is not, however, all-inclusive.  Others may well exist.

1.  Aging — Some memory loss and difficulty concentrating is to be expected as we get older.

2.  Emotional problems (fatigue, grief, and depression, for example) —  The physical and cognitive symptoms of such disorders has been getting a lot of attention in the press, lately.  But it’s also important to determine the root cause for the emotional disturbance, and to try to eliminate it.

3.  Brain conditions (head injury, subdural hematomas, tumors, and vascular conditions)

4.  Chronic hypothermia  —  Those living in houses with poor heating can suffer from a slowing of the thought processes, as well as other physical problems.

5.  Pneumonia and other infections (including urinary tract infections) —  Often, the elderly and those with some chronic health conditions can have compromised immune systems that prevent them from recognizing the presence of infection until it becomes systemic.

6.  Vitamin B deficiency, or other forms of malnutrition

7.  Vision impairment

8.  Hearing loss

9.  Alcoholism, or illicit drug use

10.  Drug interactions

11.  Certain medications may list cognitive symptoms as a possible side-effect or adverse reaction

12.  Thyroid problems (My husband was a veritable saint when I developed problems that necessitated the removal of my thyroid gland.)

13.  High fever

14.  Poisoning, either accidental or intentional —  Some common culprits include mercury, lead, and manganese.

15.  Kidney or liver disease

16.  Chronic and/or severe pain

The above-listed conditions, and others, can present with symptoms that are similar to those seen in the early stages of true dementias.  Since many of these conditions are treatable, it’s important to discover them and either eliminate or reduce the cognitive problems that those inflicted will show.  But, at the same time, one shouldn’t waste time conducting endless tests, and going from doctor to doctor, searching for a “cure” when one may not be possible.  It’s just as important to begin treatment early for dementia, and in many cases will delay or diminish the symptoms of such.

There have been a number of articles in the news, of late, documenting the high prevalence of medical mistakes — from a surgeon amputating the wrong leg, or a cancer being misdiagnosed as something else until it became too late for an effective treatment.  Speaking personally, I remember having to wear this horrible inflatable boot for two weeks, while walking with crutches, when in fact I had arthritis in my foot which was quickly cleared up with a shot of cortisone.  While these things are not a cause for us to be overly suspicious of the medical profession, they do occur with enough frequency to illustrate that we need to carefully consider the advice that we do get.  If it doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.  But don’t let that become looking for a tenth, or a twentieth, opinion.

(List inspired by one found here.

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