Anyone who has gone a night without sleep can relate to feelings of confusion and exhaustion. From college students studying for exams to new parents up at night with a newborn, there is no denying that the effects of sleeplessness can be serious. This is just one instance of medical symptoms that appear to be quite serious having a relatively simple and easily treatable root cause.
For some older adults, any feelings of confusion or forgetfulness can bring on concerns about dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is important not to jump to conclusions. While dementia can be the cause of memory loss, there are many other conditions, often treatable conditions, that can mimic the symptoms of dementia. If you or a loved one is experiencing dementia symptoms such as memory loss or confusion, it can be helpful to understand what the causes may be and to know when to seek medical assistance.
Can Other Conditions Mimic Dementia?
While any change in health status or physical abilities can be concerning as we age, every change is not necessarily cause for panic. In the case of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it can be as simple as mistaking natural signs of aging with the onset of the disease. It is also common for seniors and their families to mistake the signs of other conditions with the symptoms of dementia. Here are eight common diseases that mimic dementia:
Diabetes. The American Diabetes Association reports that at least 25% of Americans over the age of 60 have some form of diabetes. If diabetes goes undiagnosed, older adults could experience symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, lack of concentration and irritability.
Thyroid disease. Our thyroid’s function is to make hormones that keep every system in the body running as they should. Because thyroid disease usually develops slowly, the symptoms can be mistaken for normal signs of aging. However, too much or too little thyroid hormone could cause dementia-like symptoms.
Heart or lung conditions. The heart and lungs provide the brain with nutrients and oxygen necessary for proper functioning. When heart or lung conditions interfere with the delivery of oxygen or blood to the brain, it can cause vascular dementia. Symptoms can impact the patient’s alertness, memory and executive function.
Alcohol abuse. Heavy drinking over time destroys cells in the brain that are critical for thinking, memory, balance and decision-making. With proper treatment options, sometimes these effects can be reversed.
Kidney or liver disease. Toxic metabolic waste in the liver or kidneys caused by disease can lead to problems with cognitive function.
Vision or hearing problems. If a person cannot see or hear well, their compensating behavior can mimic signs of dementia. If these problems go untreated, it can lead to an elderly person becoming more and more isolated. It is important for older adults to get regular hearing and vision checks.
Cancer. There are some types of cancer that can affect cognitive function by destroying brain tissue.
Tumors. Tumors in the brain, no matter if they are benign or malignant, can interfere with the brain’s functioning and even impact the personality of the patient.
It is important for patients experiencing symptoms of memory loss or confusion to seek the advice of a health care professional. For those seniors who are diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, memory care communities are an excellent support for patients and their families. At Meridian Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, their experienced team receives special training in supporting and working with seniors with memory loss. They understand the importance of staying in close communication with family members and work from an individual care plan specifically designed to create the environment and identify the daily activities best suited for that resident.
What is Pseudodementia?
Another condition that is often confused with dementia is pseudodementia. Pseudodementia is a set of symptoms that closely mimic those of dementia. However, pseudodementia is a separate condition with other underlying causes. The largest difference between dementia and pseudodementia is that the pseudodementia is not caused by brain degeneration, which is the cause of true dementia; pseudodementia is caused by depression and other mood disorders, and it will appear differently on a brain scan.
Like dementia, the main symptoms of pseudodementia include:
- Difficulty with speech or language
- Trouble paying attention
- Losses or lapses in memory
- Problems regulating emotions or making plans
While these symptoms are very similar to dementia, there are additional symptoms of pseudodementia that can help to mark the difference between the two conditions. These additional symptoms include:
- Depressed mood
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in familiar activities
- Suicidal thoughts
- General fatigue
Treating any underlying issues leading to pseudodementia may also reduce the symptoms themselves, though long-term treatment and lifestyle changes will give the patient the best chance of success.
For patients who do have dementia, their best opportunity to maximize their independence is to have the best quality of care possible; this often leads families to opt for memory care. At The Lodge at Manito Assisted Living and Memory Care Community, activities are designed to help residents maximize their capabilities and to encourage independence. With the support of memory care experts, residents participate in activities they enjoy and take part in social activities they choose.
Finding Health and Support
At Tutera Senior Living & Health Care Center, we want our care to feel like home. We want our residents to participate in meaningful activities that support their hobbies, routines and physical skills.