9 Treatable Conditions That Mimic Alzheimer's Disease

Sunrise Senior Living  |  August 17, 2017
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Not all forms of dementia are caused by Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, there are plenty of conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s—well enough to stump doctors, in some cases. 

While it’s never good news when symptoms include memory loss, personality changes, and confusion, there is some hope.

Many of the conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s disease are treatable with early intervention.

From vitamin deficiencies to the side effects of drugs, there’s a lot that can happen to cause memory loss and confusion. 

Treatable Conditions Easily Mistaken for Alzheimer’s Disease

There are actually over 100 conditions whose symptoms can spark fears of Alzheimer’s disease. Here are nine of the most common.

1. Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Low levels of vitamin B12 can cause a type of anemia characterized by confusion, irritability, and slowness.

2. Other Vitamin Deficiencies

Similarly, deficiencies in vitamins B1 and B6 can produce Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. Niacin and folic acid deficiencies can also cause dementia, although it’s rare.

3. Depression

Older adults who are depressed often think they have Alzheimer’s. That’s because depression can cause forgetfulness, slowness, lack of focus, and disorientation.

4. Thyroid Problems

Either too much thyroid activity or too little can cause dementia-like symptoms.

5. Medication Side Effects

A common culprit in cognitive decline is medications. Confusion might be a side effect of a prescription drug the senior is taking. Or they might be experiencing an adverse reaction to a medication or an interaction between several prescriptions. Some of the medications prescribed to seniors can cause dementia-like symptoms simply because the liver and kidneys aren’t as efficient as you age. Drugs can build up in the body, causing a toxic reaction that can lead to mental decline.

Substances that may cause cognitive problems for older adults include:

?       Alcohol (when alcoholism is present)

?       Sedatives

?       Antidepressants

?       Anti-anxiety medication

?       Antihistamines

?       Narcotics

?       Corticosteroids

?       Cardiovascular drugs

?       Acid reflux drugs

?       Sleeping pills

?       Cholesterol drugs

6. Withdrawal from Drugs

Just as drugs can cause Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, discontinuing the use of some prescriptions can too. The resulting confusion and disorientation can mimic the cognitive challenges associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome and a sudden withdrawal from anti-anxiety drugs are two common examples.

7. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH)

The gradual buildup of brain fluid causes pressure which can damage brain tissue. One of the first symptoms to appear in cases of NPH is an abnormality in the way someone walks. Others include delirium and confusion.

8. Brain Tumor

Benign tumors called meningioma can sometimes cause cognitive loss that’s mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease. These tumors can often be surgically removed.

9. Vascular Dementia

A stroke or mini stroke can cause vascular dementia. People who experience mini strokes very often don’t even realize they’ve had them. Only after signs of dementia start to appear do they suspect something is wrong.

Vascular dementia is sometimes treatable with cognitive rehab and certain medications.

Awareness of the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s

If you or a loved one have symptoms that might be Alzheimer’s, speak with your physician sooner rather than later. True Alzheimer’s can be managed more effectively through preemptive care, so early detection is important.

For a description of the true signs of Alzheimer’s disease that appear during the initial stages, visit us online to find out more. We have a complete resource center for people seeking clear, up-to-date information about Alzheimer’s disease.

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