Dementia or another condition?

Some symptoms that the majority of people would ascribe to Dementia can be brought on by other conditions, so it is vitally important that this is taken into consideration during diagnosis. Here is our guide to help you tell the conditions apart.

Urinary Tract Infection

A Urinary Tract Infection can cause a sudden bout of confusion in an older person. Rapid changes in behaviour like agitation, inability to communicate properly and withdrawal are symptoms. If the person has complained of pelvic pain, a fever, a burning during urination or they use a catheter, UTI may be the culprit. The reason for the confusion symptom is due to the UTI overwhelming the kidneys and entering the bloodstream, causing blood poisoning which affects the brain. This is a serious condition and can be life-threatening.

Subdural Hematoma

The dura is the thin membrane that covers the brain. Blood trapped in between the membrane and the brain, caused by injury and bruising, can be mistaken for Alzheimer’s. The symptoms can emerge slowly, adding to the confusion and inhibiting a correct diagnosis. If the person has had a fall prior to the onset of symptoms, it may be a Subdural Hematoma.

Depression

Signs of depression can have the appearance of Dementia. The area of overlap is large including a lack of interest in subjects the person is usually passionate about, disrupted concentrating, forgetfulness, withdrawal and excessive sleeping. The main differences between the two are that those suffering from depression display less severe symptoms, ones that come and go, and do not reference suicide as much as Dementia sufferers. Obviously, that is not a lot to go on, so diagnosis is the only real way to differentiate.

Delirium

Although the symptoms of Delirium and Dementia are similar, the difference is that Dementia and other associated neurological conditions emerge over an extended period of time and Delirium starts suddenly. Things to look out for are an unusual amount of confusion, feelings of paranoia, hallucinations, rambling, behavioural changes, distraction, disorientation and excessive alertness problems – either drowsiness or agitation. Triggers can be clashes in medication or an underlying, untreated infection. Of course, people suffering from Dementia can also display these symptoms.

Side Effects

Medicines can create a variety of side effects which can be confused with dementia. The list includes, but is not limited to, sedatives, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, anticonvulsants, corticosteroids and antihistamines.

Vitamin Deficiency

A lack of Vitamin B1, Vitamin B6, Folic Acid and Niacin have been linked to dementia-esque symptoms. Alcoholics can succumb to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome due to a long-term lack of vitamin B1. Deficiency of B12 can lead to pernicious anaemia which is also mistaken for Dementia, and as the liver stores B12 (as well as vitamins A, D and Iron), liver damage can precipitate dementia-like effects.

Hypothyroidism

Too much (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism) thyroid activity can mimic some of the symptoms of dementia.

Hypothyroidism happens when the gland can’t produce enough hormones. This may be due to many factors such as an autoimmune disease. Individuals experiencing hypothyroidism experience declining mental sharpness, depression, ‘foggy brain’, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, visual-spatial skills and memory loss amongst others. Other symptoms that could be clues as to whether you have hypothyroidism are difficulty losing weight/water retention, brittle fingernails, hair loss, sensitivity to cold, enlarged tongue and enlarged thyroid gland.

The most likely cause of hyperthyroidism is also autoimmune related. This causes the gland to secrete too much hormone. The symptoms which cause it to be confused with more serious neurological conditions are tremors, nervousness, agitation, anxiety, poor concentration, lack of spatial awareness, eye problems and slowed reactions.

These conditions can be reversed a lot of the time, so if you or someone you know is displaying these symptoms, seek a diagnosis.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH)

NPH is a brain disorder, affecting those in their 60s and 70s primarily, where excess cerebrospinal fluid enters the brain ventricles and destroys brain tissue, causing dysfunction which leads to dementia-like symptoms like reasoning problems and walking problems. It can be treated with surgery which improves the mobility aspects but has little positive effects on the sufferers reasoning.

Brain Tumour

Malignant or benign tumours can disrupt the flow of information around the brain in a similar fashion to that of dementia. Two of the most common are changes in personality and disruption of cognitive function. These can depend on the position of the tumour within the brain and there can be mimicry of many different symptoms of dementia. Symptoms of a brain tumour are increased pressure in the brain, seizures, headaches, vomiting, changes in senses. Brain tumours can be deadly and if you suspect you have one, seek treatment immediately.

Stroke

Strokes happen when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted. Cognitive abilities are suddenly disrupted. This may be the key to recognising the difference between Dementia and the stroke version known as Vascular Dementia. The similar symptoms between the two are memory loss, confusion, hallucinations and impaired motor skills. Strokes can be treated by lowering blood pressure or cholesterol with medication.

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