Being given a diagnosis of dementia for a loved one can certainly be devastating news. But, it is especially important, since there is no cure yet for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, to get an accurate diagnosis.
With many types of dementia, there are treatments that can slow the progression of the disease and allow the patient to maximize their cognitive function for as long as possible. An accurate diagnosis allows the patient to have access to the appropriate treatments promptly.
But be aware that there are many things that can mimic the signs and symptoms of dementia. Many of these other conditions can be treated and/or eliminated which will relieve those dementia-like symptoms.
Depression – Because someone who is depressed may exhibit some of the same signs as someone with dementia, it is important to consider this possibility. When people are depressed they often have a difficult time concentrating and may be more inclined to forget things. As both of these symptoms are hallmarks of dementia, it can be misinterpreted. The physician who is assessing for dementia should also be assessing for depression. Treating for depression can sometimes eliminate the signs of dementia!
Medication – Many commonly used medications in the elderly can lead to symptoms of dementia: Confusion, Memory Loss and Disorientation. While these can easily be attributed to dementia, it warrants an investigation and medication review if your loved one is on medications for: Parkinson’s disease, Allergies, Migraines, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Depression, Colds and/or Diarrhea. Also pay attention if the patient is taking any medication for sleep disturbance/insomnia. By eliminating a problematic medication, the family may see the dementia-like cognitive changes resolve.
Nutritional Deficiencies – Nutritional deficiencies account for as many as 5% of dementia type issues. The deficiencies most commonly associated with symptoms of dementia are deficiencies of the B Vitamins: Thiamine (B-1), Niacin (B-3), Folate (folic acid), and Vitamin B-12. Vitamin B-12 deficiencies can be addressed with B-12 injections as, often, the elderly lack the factor in the gut needed to absorb vitamin B-12. Other deficiencies can be managed with supplementation.
Substance Abuse – This is not something that we automatically associate with our aging parents. However, substance abuse is being labeled the ‘Invisible Epidemic’ by some due to the startling fact that 17% of older adults are affected by alcohol and prescription drug misuse. Substance abuse may go undetected in this population due to several facts: They are often less involved in the social mainstream, they are less likely to get into trouble with the law, and they are retired so that the abuse is not likely to cause a job loss. But, alcohol impairs mental function more and more as we age so that even a drink or two can impair function in a more noticeable way.
There are many other conditions that present the symptoms of dementia so you can see the importance of a complete medical work-up which evaluates all possible factors. The physician needs to do a complete and thorough examination which should include not only a physical exam, but also a detailed history and interviews with close family members if possible.
Getting the appropriate treatment for any of these conditions is important in making the life of our aging loved ones as healthy and full as possible.
On the journey with you…….Kathy
Kathy Eynon is an Eldercare Coach and Consultant who works with those struggling to cope with the demands of caring for an aging parent. She can be reached by email at: Kathy@ParentCareAlliance.com.