Thursday, May 22, 2014

Is It Alzheimers or a Treatable Disease?

One of the biggest fears most of us will have as we get older is that we may develop Alzheimer's Disease or another form of dementia.  Every time we lose our keys, forget a friend's name, or can't remember why we entered a room, we worry that this could be the beginning of our mental decline.

Baby Boomers take vitamins, get exercise, work crossword puzzles and play video games, all in an attempt to do everything they can to ward off dementia.  The good news is that these efforts can sometimes be successful at slowing down our mental decline. 

However, did it ever occur to you that your forgetfulness, brain fog and periodic bouts of confusion may actually be caused by a treatable disease? The problem comes in determining which cases can be treated and which cases cannot.

While we all dread receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer's or dementia, sometimes our memory loss and mental confusion is actually caused by a treatable illness and none of us would want our doctors to overlook this possibility!

According to the April, 2014 AARP Bulletin, in an article entitled "Am I Losing My Mind?" there are at least eight health issues that can "masquerade as dementia."  If you suspect that one of these problems could be causing your memory loss, you will want to have your doctor test you for them.

Eight Treatable Causes of Memory Loss and Confusion

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH) - Fluids are putting pressure on your brain.  This problem may be corrected with a shunt.

Medications - If you become forgetful, especially after taking a new medicine, tell your doctor about all your medications and supplements; you may be having a reaction and a simple adjustment could restore clear thinking.

Depression or other mental health problems - Depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder and similar mental illnesses can cause us to lose focus and have trouble thinking clearly.  Medications, exercise and/or cognitive therapy may be able to  resolve the issue.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) This one was a surprise!  However, infections of any kind, including UTI's may be asymptomic.  This means you may not realize you have an infection. However, once discovered, it can be treated with antibiotics and lifestyle adjustments.  Infections, especially UTI's, are a common cause of foggy thinking.

Thyroid disease - Although it can be detected with an easy blood test, many people go years without having their thyroid disease detected.  Once discovered, it can be treated with medication or, in some cases, surgery.  Symptoms include depression, foggy thinking, weight gain and feeling cold.  If you are experiencing these problems, be sure to have your thyroid checked.

B-12 deficiency - This is a type of anemia that cannot be treated with iron; however, injections of B-12 about once a month can make a tremendous difference in helping you to think more clearly and have more energy.

Diabetes - This is a very serious disease which, if left untreated, can even result in death.  It is important to catch and treat this disease early in order to reduce its affect on the brain

Alcohol abuse - It is amazing how many physicians do not consider the possibility of alcohol and drug abuse when they are attempting to diagnose the cause of dementia.  While the dementia can sometimes be resolved by simply abstaining from alcohol, in some cases it may be necessary to reverse the brain damage by using thiamine replacement therapy or similar treatments.  It is encouraging, however, to know that there are treatments that may make a significant difference in how clearly you think, even after years of alcohol abuse.

If you suspect that one of these issues could be causing memory loss for you or someone you love, make sure that you or your loved one receives all the possible tests and treatments.  Do not assume that dementia cannot be reversed and do not give up your quest for an alternate diagnosis too soon.  None of us want to suffer for years from a problem that could have been easily treated if it had been caught earlier.


"Am I Losing My Mind?" AARP Bulletin, April 2014, pgs. 18-20

If you are interested in reading about other issues that could arise as you age, check out the tabs at the top of this page, particularly the one on health concerns.  You will find links to hundreds of other articles that have been written for this blog.

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