Dec 28, 2012

Is it really Alzheimer's Disease or Something Else?

People often assume when an older person becomes forgetful they must be living with Alzheimer's or dementia.
People often assume when an older person becomes forgetful they must be living with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia.

Here is an example of what can happen if you don't get thoroughly tested.

My father’s internist diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s disease last year (my father was then 80) and prescribed medication that didn’t seem to help at all. 

It wasn’t until I took my father to a neurologist that we learned he actually had a benign brain tumor that was affecting his memory and behavior.

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I cannot tell you how many times I have recommended to someone to go beyond their personal care physician and get a consult with a neurologist or geriatric specialist. They rarely follow through which never stops amazing me.

With this in mind, what are some other brain diseases that may be mistaken for Alzheimer’s?

Dementia (Alzheimer's disease) like symptoms can be caused by numerous factors. The following can present as a false positive for Alzheimer's. They can only be ruled out by appropriate testing.

These include:
  • Metabolic and endocrine abnormalities too much or too little thyroid hormone or cortisol are examples);
  • Brain Lesions (tumors, collections of blood called subdural hematomas, and abscesses);
  • Infection (meningitis, encephalitis, syphilis, to name a few);
  • Impaired cerebral spinal fluid flow causing normal pressure hydrocephalus;
  • Radiation to the brain, or brain trauma;
  • Stroke;
  • and medication side-effects.
Severe depression can also cause dementia. This is why medical, neurologic, and psychiatric assessments are essential parts of the initial evaluation of dementia.

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room