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01/09/2016


Alzheimer's Disease is a common disease, affecting 1 in 3 seniors over the age of 85, but there are several other conditions that mimic symptoms of dementia but are profoundly different when it comes to care and treatment.  A proper diagnosis is critical so that patients get the proper care and treatment they need.  

Here are some conditions commonly misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's Disease or other forms of dementia:


Depression

There is a syndrome called “Pseudo-dementia” where people appear to be demented but they are actually depressed because they share many of the same symptoms

Depression can result in problems with a person's concentration, focus, memory and attention.  

Other symptoms such as a low mood, apathy, lack of motivation, irritability, difficulties sleeping, loss of interest in hobbies  are also symptoms of those suffering from dementia and depression.  

Many older people will display the typical symptoms of depression, such as low mood and struggling with concentration. There may be tearfulness, problems sleeping, a loss of interest in hobbies and problems with their memory.

Depression is a surprisingly common problem among the elderly.  Around 15% of seniors over the age of 65 and around 30% of seniors over the age of 75.  


HOW CAN YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE?

A few symptomatic differences between depression and dementia are:

  • Those with depression may have problems with attention and memory but they wouldn't demonstrate diminished cognitive abilities which is a major symptom of dementia.
  • With depression, it is common to have diurnal variation - a tendency to feel depressed at the start of the day with an improved mood as the day progresses.  With dementia, it is common to experience sundowning - a tendency to have symptoms worsen (including anxiety, mood problems, and confusion) in the late afternoon through evening.  
  • Those suffering from dementia may (periodically) not know the people around them or key but basic information such as the date, time and year.  

DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT

There is no single test to diagnose Alzheimer's.  Your physician should do a complete assessment which includes gathering medical history, scanning your brain, and performing a series of physical, neurological, and mental status exams.  

While there is no treatment for Alzheimer's, depression can be treated through the use of anti-depressants and/or therapy.  Consult your local physician for details.  


Hypothyroidism

With hypothyroidism, your thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone, a hormone that affects nearly every part of your body, from your heart and brain, to your muscles and skin.  As a result, this may impair mental and cognitive processes - confusing it with dementia.

While there are many risk factors for hypothyroidism, risk of developing this disorder does increase with age.  


Spotting the difference: Those with an underactive thyroid will have other symptoms, such as weight gain, coarse skin and dry hair. They may lose the outer third of their eyebrows and suffer constipation - not just a dulling of their normal mental function.


HOW CAN YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE?

Those with hypothyroidism may exhibit additional symptoms including:

  • dry hair and hair loss
  • Greater sensitivity to Cold
  • Swelling of the Thyroid Gland (Goiter)
  • Unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Slow heart rate
  • Dry Skin
  • Constipation
  • Bloating


DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT

To diagnose hypothyroidism, your local physician will order blood tests to examine hormone levels (including hormone levels of Thyroid-stimulating hormone and Thyroxine).  

If you have hypothyroidism, your doctor will prescribe a synthetic (man-made) thyroid hormone T4.  


VITAMIN B12 DEFICIENCY

Lack of Vitamin B12, a vitamin found in dairy, meat, and eggs, can cause the brain to deteriorate resulting in increased memory loss, delirium, and can even result in psychosis.

People over the age of 60 have an increased likelihood of developing a B12 deficiency because as people age, they produce less stomach acid needed to absorb vitamins from food.  


HOW CAN YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE?

Those with B12 deficiency may exhibit additional symptoms including:

  • Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
  • Weakness, tiredness, and/or lightheadedness
  • Pale skin 
  • Nerve problems including tingling and numbness and muscle weakness.  


DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT

As referenced earlier, Alzheimer's is diagnosed through a series of medical tests.  B12 deficiency can be diagnosed through a blood test administered by your local physician.  

B12 deficiency can be corrected by injections of B12 into the system.  Consult your local physician for details.  


PARKINSON'S DISEASE


Parkinson’s disease is caused by not having enough of the brain chemical dopamine which in turn affects nerve cells.

Symptoms often begin appearing between the ages of 50 and 60 and develop slowly.  Because the disease causes motor symptoms, it often results in slower movements, lack of expression, and is commonly associated with depression.  


HOW CAN YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE?

The biggest difference is that Parkinson's Disease affects a person's motor skills while Dementia affects a person's cognitive skills.  While these both result in limited motor abilities, the following symptoms are possible indications of  Parkinson's Disease:

  • Tremors
  • Weak face and throat muscles
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Stiff, rigid, and/or aching muscles.  


DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT

A diagnosis of Parkinson's disease is based on your medical history and a thorough neurological exam.  No known treatment can stop or reverse the breakdown of nerve cells that causes Parkinson's disease. But there are many treatments that can help your symptoms and improve your quality of life.


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