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Diseases that Mimic Dementia…But Are Treatable-part 3

As you can tell from now a third installment about other medical conditions that can mimic dementia, it’s not a quick diagnosis once one sees cognitive difficulties in an older loved one.  And the isolation of this past year’s pandemic and quarantine certainly have created the perfect storm for health and environmental issues to conspire to make folks seem “not quite in touch.”  When I asked for you to guess one of the remaining medical conditions that can mimic dementia, nobody got the right answers, despite the fact that nearly one in five of you who read the last email clicked through to the post.  Well, no more suspense, here are three more “look alikes”.  Did you know that…

  1. Hearing or Vision Loss can create dementia-like symptoms. It stands to reason that those among our loved ones who have trouble hearing, will have difficulty also in processing what is said to them.  And those who cannot see clearly will face challenges in orienting themselves in the world.  As we all come out of hibernation, encourage your older loved one to have an eye exam as part of their annual preventive health measures.  And if you are asked to repeat yourself in conversation, or if it seems your loved one is not registering what you’re saying, ask their doctor for a referral to an audiologist.
  2. Urinary Tract Infections are relatively common in older adults and they can precipitate dementia-like symptoms. The key here is that there is relatively rapid onset of the symptoms, which are your sign if you are a caregiver to get your older loved one to the doctor.  With the appropriate antibiotic, the condition and the delirium can be cleared up in a week or so.
  3. Some Medications can induce dementia-like symptoms as an unwanted side effect. Anticholinergics, like diphenhydramine, are a classic case of a medication that has side effects that can be as powerful as the originally designed main effect.  Also know as Benadryl, this medication is marketed perhaps even more often as a sleep aid, not an allergy aid.  But these drugs also can block brain chemicals important in cognitive processes as well as some motor functions.

As we wrap up this triathlon of posts on dementia mimics, the common learning for those of you who are caregivers to older loved ones is very basic.  Be observant for changes in cognition in your older loved one and ask questions.  Your best ally in this likely will be your loved one’s health care provider who also will have a history with your loved one.  They also will be able to discern even small changes in mental processing and will be quick to make the appropriate referrals, if indicated.  But you will be the primary advocate, the one who will get your loved one to the provider in the first place.  It is becoming very safe for the vaccinated people to get to medical providers, and the providers themselves are taking all the right precautions as they “open up.”  And did I mention that now that we all are getting our vaccines, we can slowly begin to relearn hugs.  Give one and get one…a vaccine and a hug, that is.

Charlotte Bishop is a Caregiver Coach, an Aging Life Care Advisor, a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.


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