Periods of forgetfulness, confusion, disorientation – witnessing these in a senior loved one can trigger an immediate alarm that Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia has taken hold. And although these symptoms are a concern, it’s important to realize that they could be indicative of a variety of other conditions, many of which are easily treated, such as:
- Urinary tract infections. UTIs are very common in the elderly, and often display differently than in younger patients, through delirium, confusion, agitation, or even hallucinations. A simple course of antibiotics, fluids, and rest can completely reverse these symptoms.
- Thyroid disease. Thyroid-related symptoms can include forgetfulness, anxiety, depression, and lethargy – and it’s estimated that as many as 15 million adults (most over age 50) are currently undiagnosed. A blood test and medications may be all that are needed.
- Vitamin deficiency. In particular, insufficient levels of vitamin B-12 can result in confusion, irritability, forgetfulness, and other symptoms that imitate dementia. Sometimes in aging, the body becomes unable to absorb B-12, resulting in a condition known as pernicious anemia. The problem is often correctable through monthly injections or oral supplements.
- Alcohol abuse. According to Majid Fotuhi, founder of NeurExpand Brain Center, “Alcohol abuse, even binge drinking for a short time when you’re young, destroys brain cells in areas critical for memory, thinking, decision making and balance,” and can lead to a chronic memory disorder later in life. This condition can sometimes be reversed, however, through thiamine replacement therapy.
Explore more dementia-mimicking conditions and their treatment options from AARP.
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