Maybe it’s not Alzheimer’s

“Dementia” is not a diagnosis in and of itself. It describes a collection of symptoms that involve memory and thinking that are enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause, but there are many other reasons a person might have dementia symptoms.

Most of the conditions that cause dementia cannot be cured. There are, however, some situations where the dementia symptoms are present but are reversible.

If you are worried about changes in a loved one’s memory, thinking, mood, or behavior, there may be a treatable cause. For instance:

  • Drug reactions. Confused thinking may be a side effect of medication or a bad combination of drugs. Or mixing drugs with alcohol.
  • Hearing loss. People with hearing loss often become withdrawn. They may seem forgetful or nonsensical when in fact they simply didn’t hear a conversation. Hearing aids can solve the problem.
  • Other medical conditions. Diseases of the kidneys or liver can cause memory problems. As can head injuries. People with especially high or low thyroid levels can have dementia-cluster symptoms. As the medical conditions are treated and cured, the symptoms go away.
  • Infection. A high fever can cause confusion. Cure the infection, and thinking returns to prior function.
  • Nutritional deficiency or dehydration. Lack of B vitamins, particularly B12 and thiamin, can result in confused thinking. So can insufficient fluid intake.
  • Emotional distress. Grief and bereavement following a loss can result in poor memory and confused thinking. So can the disruption of a move, say from home to a facility. Depression can affect thinking as well as mood. Fortunately, when the distress is treated—through counseling or medications—the confused and foggy thinking typically clears up.

It’s important to get tested. Before assuming it’s dementia, get your loved one a thorough medical workup. Testing could uncover a cause that is indeed reversible.