Saturday, April 12, 2014 | by Margaret Noirjean
Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of symptoms that affect memory and thinking. Alzheimer’s disease is only one type of dementia.
Normal pressure hydrocephalus is caused by a gradual buildup of spinal fluid in the brain. The resulting swelling and pressure over time can damage brain tissue. The symptom that usually isn’t noticed at first is a distinctive gait problem like a slow shuffle. A shunt surgically inserted into the brain can drain fluid and usually corrects situation.
Drug interactions can be a problem because the body metabolizes and eliminates medication less efficiently as one ages and drugs can build up and cause memory glitches and other side effects that look very similar to dementias. If troublesome symptoms begin after starting a medication, follow up on it. Let the provider know about all medications taken including supplements.
When someone is depressed, regions of the brain crucial for memory, thinking, mood, sleep and appetite are impaired. A depressed person would express sadness whereas someone with a dementia related depression may not realize he has memory problems or may not want to take on new activities but may not necessarily feel sad. Depression can be treated successfully with medication, regular exercise, cognitive therapy and stress reduction techniques.
UTIs are often missed in older people because some rarely have the typical symptoms of fever or pain. Instead there may be memory problems, confusion, delirium, dizziness, agitation and hallucinations. UTIs are easily treated with antibiotics.
30 million people have thyroid disease. Most of those are over 50 and half don’t know it. People feel sluggish, depressed, forgetful or anxious. Symptoms of thyroid disease are often mistaken for normal aging. Both too little or too much thyroid hormone may trigger dementia-like symptoms. A simple blood test measures thyroid hormone levels.
As some people age they become unable to absorb vitamin B-12 which leads to a condition called pernicious anemia. The result is nerve damage such as numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, confusion, personality changes, irritability, depression and forgetfulness.
25% of Americans over the age of 6 have diabetes. Too much or too little glucose damages blood vessels in the brain. The result is memory problems, confusion, irritability and inattention. Good control of the condition is important.
Alcohol abuse and even binge drinking for a short time destroys brain cells in areas critical for memory, thinking, decision making and balance. Depending on the damage, the effects of long-term alcohol abuse can sometimes be reversed.
AARP Bulletin/Real Possibilities April 2014