Five Conditions that May Look Like Alzheimer’s, But Aren’t

When we notice the first signs of memory loss in ourselves or a loved one, we often worry that it’s the horrible, irreversible disease called Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that can begin as mild memory loss and progress.

In addition to memory loss and confusion, Alzheimer’s symptoms include:

  • Continuously repeating stories or motions
  • Difficult doing everyday tasks with more than one step, such as getting dressed
  • Less concern for appearance and personal hygiene
  • Increasing inability to communicate
  • May not recognize friends and loved ones

However, there are a number of other conditions, prevalent in the elderly, that can cause some of the same symptoms and may be mistaken for Alzheimer’s. The good news? All of these conditions are treatable and, if detected early, frequently curable. Let’s look at a few common ailments that can cause dementia symptoms.

As we age, our ability to detect thirst diminishes. This can lead to dehydration, and dehydration, even mild dehydration, can cause mild memory loss. Intense dehydration can lead to confusion and disorientation often seen in Alzheimer’s patients.

Lack of B Vitamins
Science is discovering the importance of B vitamins in a healthy diet, as a means to increase energy, boost immunity, and even prevent cognitive impairment. Some B vitamins go by the names folate, niacin, riboflavin and thiamine. It is best to get these nutrients as they occur naturally in foods, rather than from processed foods like breakfast cereal, which is fortified with these vitamins. (Although any form of the vitamin is better than none at all.)

B vitamins are found in a wide range of foods, including whole grains, potatoes, seafood, liver, green leafy vegetables and beans, so eating a balanced diet of healthy foods should ensure enough B vitamins. However, vitamin supplements may be called for since a small percentage of seniors cannot absorb these nutrients as they occur naturally.

Hyperthyroidism/HypothyroidismWhen the thyroid produces too many (hyper) or too few (hypo) hormones, it can lead to dementia-like symptoms. Hyperthyroidism is usually treated through surgery (thyroid removal) or destroying the thyroid with radioactive iodine. Hypothyroidism may be treated with hormone replacement therapy and the dementia symptoms are reversible if treated early enough.

Hyperglycemia/hypoglycemiaHyper- and hypoglycemia (high blood sugar and low blood sugar, respectively), which are symptoms of untreated or improperly treated diabetes, can cause confusion, memory loss, emotional disturbance and even temporary personality changes. Changes in diabetes medication or insulin therapy should be considered. Blood sugar tests for hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia are very easy, whether or not the individual has been diagnosed with diabetes.

Drug reactions or interactions
Many drugs used to treat common ailments in seniors can, unfortunately, cause dementia symptoms. Medications that treat Parkinson’s, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, anxiety, allergies and migraines can cause dementia symptoms. Additionally, over-the-counter treatments for cold, flu, allergies and sleep difficulties can cause symptoms that look like Alzheimer’s disease.

If you experience Alzheimer’s-like symptoms while on any medication, ask your doctor about alternatives.

The Truth About Memory Loss
Nearly everyone over the age of 40 has had a brief lapse of memory and worried if it’s early onset Alzheimer’s. The fact is, memory loss is not a necessary part of aging, but everything from prescription medication to vitamin deficiencies to stress can cause it.

Although Alzheimer’s currently affects 5 million Americans, it’s not an inevitability. Before thinking the worst, if you or a loved one experiences memory loss or confusion, consider other factors and speak to a medical professional to rule out other causes.

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