As we care for our parents and the generation of older adults, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. However, it’s just as vital to know what else could show similar symptoms to memory loss. Older adults are more susceptible to medical conditions and illnesses that can cause dementia-like symptoms. Surprisingly, some of these conditions are quite common.
Rob Low, Community Relations Director at Clarity Pointe™ Pensacola, a memory care assisted living community in Pensacola, Florida, says, “Many health conditions may act like the cognitive difficulties associated with dementia. Discerning individuals or their caretakers may easily mistake symptoms of another condition for the onset of dementia. However, only until a doctor has done an examination can you be certain of the symptoms’ cause.”
Dementia-Like Symptoms in Different Conditions
Forgetfulness, clouded judgment, difficulty communicating thoughts or trouble with executive function are all hallmark symptoms of dementia. Yet, these symptoms are not exclusive to degenerative cognitive disease. According to WebMD’s Alzheimer’s Guide, other health conditions can affect the brain and our thinking abilities. Some of the conditions that most commonly mimic dementia symptoms include other brain-related issues such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease. Other conditions can cause neurological symptoms that have good chances of going away with the proper diagnosis and treatment.
Learn about the following conditions and their symptoms that may strike a resemblance to dementia:
- Depression – We often associate dementia and depression because those diagnosed with memory loss are likely to experience the emotional trials of coping with their disease. Less talked about is the possibility for those with chronic depression to begin exhibiting dementia-like symptoms. Individuals suffering from depression may have difficulty remembering recently learned information or keeping track of tasks they need to do. Memory troubles could be a form of coping with depression (since our brains naturally try to repress painful experiences), or they could have something to do with the areas of the brain affected by this kind of mental illness.
People with depression may show other symptoms similar to dementia, such as trouble concentrating, making decisions or making plans. They may also withdraw from social events, leisure activities or family and friends. They may sleep too much or too little. A medical examination will help determine the right diagnosis and treatment plan.
- Thyroid Disease – Whenever the thyroid gland is under or overactive, it can cause symptoms that might appear like memory loss. Responsible for making hormones that control how the organs function, an unhealthy thyroid can easily affect one’s mental health.
Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) can cause the whole body to work slowly, affecting the brain and thoughts. Someone with this condition might find it hard learn new things or recall recent events. Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) does the opposite, causing a person to feel anxious, jittery or have difficulty focusing. In serious cases, one may feel as though they’re losing touch with reality. Fortunately, thyroid disease can be treated and the symptoms can be controlled.
- Hypoglycemia – This condition occurs in people with diabetes when their blood sugar levels drop too low. During a hypoglycemic episode, the brain doesn’t have enough fuel to work properly, so a person may become confused or clumsy, or even faint in extreme circumstances. These symptoms can easily be treated by eating or drinking something to raise the body’s blood sugar (if not, see a doctor right away).
- Lyme Disease – Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that most commonly enters the body through a tick bite. Since symptoms could show up months or years after such a bite, it can be difficult to diagnose. The longer the bacteria lives in the body, the greater the risk of it damaging the central nervous system and short-term memory. Some dementia-like symptoms include clouded thinking or trouble keeping up in conversation. Daily tasks may take longer or require more effort. Antibiotics may help treat symptoms.
- Vitamin B12 Deficiency – Our bodies use vitamin B12 to make nerves, red blood cells and DNA. When someone is deficient, they can frequently feel lost or out of place, even when they’re in a familiar setting. B12 deficiency can be caused by a vegetarian or vegan diet (as we get B12 from the food we eat), or conditions that make it hard to absorb nutrients from food, such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease. Taking frequent heartburn medication may also cause problems, since your stomach needs enough acid to digest food properly. A blood test can determine B12 levels.
- Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) – UTIs are relatively common infections that occur when bacteria enters the urethra. However, if left untreated, the infection could spread to the bladder and kidneys. In older adults, especially, such an infection could cause sudden symptoms that seem like dementia. They could become confused, irrationally upset, excessively sleepy, or have trouble paying attention. Hallucinations are even possible. UTIs and their symptoms are treated with antibiotics.
Know When to Seek Help
It’s difficult for those of us not trained in medicine to understand the mysterious ways certain conditions manifest. The best we can do as partners and caregivers is to be aware of ourselves and our loved ones and monitor the changes we see in their health. Whether a diagnosis is dementia or not, we give our loved ones a greater chance of better health when we seek medical attention on time.
“If a loved one starts showing symptoms that resemble dementia, you should see a doctor right away,” says Low. “In some cases, their symptoms may be treatable and unrelated to dementia, or they could indicate the first signs of memory loss. Only a medical examination can determine the cause, so don’t hesitate to seek a doctor’s help.”
Helping your loved one get the care they need is an essential part of caregiving, and it’s a priority at Clarity Pointe. If you would like to know more about dementia symptoms and seeking help for someone in your care, contact us today.
Clarity Pointe… Our Difference is Clear
Clarity Pointe’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.
Unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center, Clarity Pointe Pensacola offers three freestanding, purpose-built Memory Care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to Memory Care Assisted Living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.
We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.
For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.