Is this Alzheimer’s? Common Health Conditions that Mimic Dementia

A concern we frequently hear from Columbus area family caregivers is that they don’t know how to tell if the changes they see in the person they care for are a normal part of aging or Alzheimer’s disease. Loved ones often rush to the conclusion that their family member has Alzheimer’s when they exhibit one of the behaviors commonly associated with disease.

Forgetfulness and confusion can be early warning signs of many of the types of dementia that we are at greater risk for developing as we age. Those symptoms can also be the result of less serious health conditions that can be reversed with medical intervention.

7 Health Conditions that Mimic Alzheimer’s Disease

When you take your senior loved one to visit their primary care physician to talk about these new symptoms and what might be wrong, a few conditions they will likely investigate before making a diagnosis include:

1.  Urinary Tract Infection. One of the first conditions a primary care physician will likely test for is a urinary tract infection or something similar. Weaker immune systems and chronic health conditions can put seniors at greater risk for developing one. The classic symptoms of an infection – such as disorientation and confusion – can be mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease.

2.  Vitamin B-12 Deficiency. Another condition your senior loved one’s family physician will test for is a Vitamin B-12 deficiency. The symptoms can present like dementia: memory loss, confusion, and problems with concentration. Aging adults who live alone and have problems cooking healthy meals on their own can be a risk for vitamin B-12 and other nutrient deficiencies.

3.  Depression.  This one is sometimes overlooked in exploring what might be causing memory loss and forgetfulness. But depression among the elderly is common. Pseudodementia is the term used to describe when a person’s depression causes symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

4.  Dehydration. While dehydration can occur amongst seniors any time of year, older adults are especially vulnerable during the dog days of summer. The symptoms of a heat-related illness like dehydration include confusion, irritability, and disorientation.

5.  Medication issues. Aging causes many changes to our bodies. One of those changes is that we begin to process medications differently. In some cases, older adults require smaller doses of medications and can develop side effects not seen in younger adults. Interactions between prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines can also create problems. The result is symptoms that can mimic dementia.

6.  Thyroid function. People often develop problems with thyroid function in later life. It might be a drop in thyroid function or that the thyroid becomes overactive. Both can lead to problems with concentration and memory.

7.  Diabetes and blood sugar. If blood sugar isn’t controlled or if a senior has undiagnosed diabetes, it can look like Alzheimer’s disease. Common symptoms include disorientation, agitation, and unusual behaviors.

These conditions can typically all be reversed with medical intervention and treatment. The key is to make sure you schedule an appointment with a geriatric care or family physician right away. Even if the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s, there are some medications available today that show promise in slowing the progression of the disease.

Do you know a loved one experiencing any of these health conditions?