Dementia has many types and can be difficult to diagnose. To add to this problem, there are many conditions that mimic dementia, but may not be the problem.
As dementia is chronic or progressive in nature, it is natural to get worried if you or your loved one experiences some of its symptoms. But before you jump to conclusions, you should know that there are more than 100 treatable disorders that share similarities with dementia in one way or another.
Before discussing the conditions that mimic dementia, it is essential to understand what dementia is.
Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning, intellectual abilities, thinking, remembering, reasoning, and behavioral abilities. Moreover, it affects the patients in such a way that it interferes with their daily life and activities.
The important thing to know about dementia is that it is a syndrome, not just a single disease. That is why the diagnostic term for dementia is ‘major neurocognitive disorder’.
Changes in cognitive function can be scary, and the boundaries between different forms of dementia are indistinct. For this reason, it is important to have a complete evaluation of your loved one who is exhibiting any signs of dementia.
There are six checkpoints that clinicians look at while diagnosing dementia.
There is usually a disturbance in some functions including memory, language skills, visual perception, problem-solving, self-management, and the ability to focus and pay attention. It is common for people to have mixed dementia, which is a combination of two or more types of dementia.
Dementia is more common among the elderly, but it is not a part of aging. It can vary depending on the types of brain changes and comes in many forms, with the Alzheimer’s and vascular subtypes being most common.
There are three primary stages of the signs and symptoms of dementia:
Signs are usually mild and gradual at this stage. Some of the common signs include forgetfulness, losing track of time, and becoming lost in the familiar setting.
As the early stage progresses into the middle stage, signs become clearer, and the person usually starts to forget people’s names and faces.
In the last stage of dementia, there is a serious disturbance of memory, and the patient experiences total dependence and inactivity.
There are many different types of dementia, but the most common ones are:
Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes dementia. It causes a progressive and irreversible decline in memory and other cognitive abilities. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia because 60-80 percent of dementia patients are suffering from it.
This disease is associated with abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. The patient usually comes with the following signs:
It develops when the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients. This disease blocks or reduces the blood flow to the brain. There is either an abrupt deterioration in cognitive function or in a fluctuating, stepwise manner. These patients may experience some focal neurological findings such as:
These disorders result from damage to neurons in the frontal lobe and temporal lobe of the brain. As a result, the patients may experience changes in language or behavior.
It is one of the most common types among the elderly. Several combinations of different types of dementia can occur simultaneously and the mixed symptoms can be seen in patients with this condition.
In addition to the types of dementia, certain medical conditions can also cause memory problems that mimic dementia. Luckily, many such conditions are curable and can potentially be reversed.
Depression can lead to memory loss and attention deficits- but also a loss of interest in normal activities. Seeing an elderly loved one with little to no interest in doing the things they used to do may cause us to think they are suffering from dementia.
This may include vitamin B12 deficiency, thyroid disorder, thiamine deficiency, and folate deficiency. As a result of these deficiencies, the patient can experience symptoms similar to those of dementia.
There are several GI disorders that may cause cognitive changes that one might confuse with dementia. Seniors may experience such changes in Whipple’s disease, niacin deficiency, and vitamin E deficiency.
The use of alcohol in excess is harmful to everyone and can cause memory issues among the youngest of us. As we age, we lose some of our cognitive ability to retain short-term memory- engaging in heavy drinking for a long period can exacerbate the loss of memory in the elderly.
This condition occurs when there is excessive cerebrospinal fluid in the brain’s ventricle. The fluid can cause the ventricle to enlarge. This can lead to the onset of symptoms like difficulty in walking and thinking, impaired decision-making, and loss of bladder control.
Though the two may seem unrelated, UTIs are one of the leading causes of dementia-like behavior. Patients with UTIs have symptoms like pain and burning on urination, as well as bladder control issues and a seemingly constant need to go to the toilet. Some older adults can also experience confusion and changes in their thinking as a result of this intense discomfort.
There are several medications that can cause memory problems and confusion. Moreover, medication-induced dementia are seen more often in elderly patients as they are typically hypersensitive to adverse effects. Such medications include:
There are also many other diseases and infections that doctors have identified showing dementia-like syndrome:
With this information, you can have a basic understanding of the conditions that mimic dementia. And this understanding can help you determine your or your loved one’s actual issue by not panicking and getting a second opinion.