Symptoms of Dementia Often Misdiagnosed

Symptoms of Dementia Often Misdiagnosed

Posted on August 4, 2014 by ElderCare Resources in Blog, Consumer Alert, Dementia Care, Education, Memory Loss

AARP Feature: When Dementia Symptoms Are Not Alzheimer’s Disease

Although it was years ago, I clearly remember the phone ringing on a hot California morning.  My mother was calling from Minnesota and she sounded a bit frantic.  Earlier that morning, she had taken my dad to the emergency room.  Dad was having a “spell” as she described it, exhibiting confusion, irregular heart rate, muscle spasms and general weakness.

While the doctors had ordered tests, mom was convinced Dad had had a stroke.

After hanging up, I started calling airlines to check on flight availability.  However, before I could book a ticket, the phone rang again.  This time, Mom was calling with good news: Dad hadn’t suffered a stroke, he had Hypokalemia — low potassium, a condition that was easily reversed.

Related: 7 Tips For Eliminating Those Senior Moments

Who knew?  I certainly didn’t, but since that day I’ve heard plenty of people tell of their own experience with Hypokalemia and the resulting stroke-like symptoms.

This incident came to mind recently as I read a terrific story in the AARP Bulletin written by Margery D. Rosen.

Rosen’s feature story is both interesting and timely.  It focuses on the basic question: Is it Alzheimer’s disease, another type of dementia or something else entirely?

That something else can be a number of conditions and, thankfully they can be treated.

One of the most common issues that could lead someone to think they have signs of dementia is drug interaction.

Rosen’s story highlights a 72-year-old woman who was taking 17 different medications, all prescribed by her family physician.  If the woman developed new complaints or symptoms, her doctor prescribed a new medication and never bothered to check to see if there could be a drug interaction.  It’s not surprising that, instead of feeling better, the woman felt a lot worse, which required more trips to the doctor and more prescriptions.  Thinking her doctor knew best, the woman never questioned him.

What a horrible cycle and not that uncommon, especially when older individuals are seeing a variety of doctors. Drug interaction is serious and can cause a lot of other symptoms, memory confusion among them.

The good news here is that the woman taking 17 different drugs finally sought help from a medications expert.  She now takes only a few prescribed medications daily and feels much improved.

Related: Memory Loss: Dementia Or Just Old Age

The takeaway is that doctors can make mistakes by not looking at the full picture.  Consequently, patients must ask questions, provide all information and insist on reviewing all medications and treatments.

Signs of dementia could also be attributed to a urinary tract infection or UTI, a condition sometimes missed in older people.  In younger individuals, a UTI will often result in pain accompanied by a high fever, but these symptoms are not always present in the older person.  What may result instead are some classic memory problems of confusion, dizziness and agitation.  If untreated, the person may experience delirium and hallucinations.

If these symptoms come on quickly, it could very well be a UTI which is treated effectively with an antibiotic.

What other conditions can mimic memory problems?

Surprisingly, thyroid disease could be the culprit, causing a person to display signs of depression, forgetfulness and even anxiety.  In the ARRP feature, Rosen points out that millions of people have thyroid disease, but just don’t know it.  At your next annual physical make sure the doctor orders a blood test to test your thyroid function.

Related: How to Prepare for Dementia in a Loved One

Depression or another type of mental disorder can also cause some signs of dementia.  Rosen quotes Majid Fotuhi, M.D. and founder of NeurExpand Brain Center in Columbia MD, “When someone is depressed, regions of the brain crucial for memory, thinking, mood, sleep and appetite are impaired.”

Of course, depression or a mental disorder cannot be instantly remedied, but leaving it unchecked will only exacerbate the problem and its symptoms.

The big takeaway from the AARP story is this: A number of conditions can cause the brain to malfunction, and most are treatable.  See your doctor before assuming it is Alzheimer’s disease and keep asking questions until you get answers.

Published: Dating Dementia