When It Might Not Be Alzheimer's

December 19, 2012

 

Alzheimer’s disease affects more than five million older Americans and is the most common form of age-related dementia.  Yet despite decades of research, there exists no definitive biological test to identify it – no blood test or brain scan for example. A diagnosis is commonly based upon a number of cognitive and physical assessments with sometimes inaccurate or conflicting results.  Research by the National Institute on Aging suggests that about one-third of Alzheimer’s diagnoses may be incorrect.  These misdiagnoses can have serious negative consequences regarding the person’s medical treatment, individual liberty and quality of life. 

 

While memory loss and confusion are commonly assumed to be caused by Alzheimer’s, these symptoms can instead be caused by a number of other, treatable conditions such as:

  • Depression

  • Urinary Tract Infection

  • Stroke or Vascular Disease

  • Adverse Reaction to Medicines

  • Vitamin deficiencies

  • Sleep apnea

  • Low Blood Sugar (i.e. hypoglycemia)

  • Thyroid Disease

  • Alcohol Use

  • Hearing loss

Whenever a loved one is suspected of having Alzheimer’s, a complete medical and neuro-psychological evaluation is advisable.  This often will involve a gerontologist and generally will include:

  • A complete medical history.

  • A review of the onset of symptoms

  • Laboratory tests.

  • Neurological exam.

  • Brain imaging.

  • Mental Testing.

Because of the possibility of an inaccurate diagnosis, a thorough evaluation is critical.  Even well-meaning doctors can sometimes be too hasty in their diagnosis.  Once a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is naturally assumed that their symptoms will get progressively worse.  What a tragedy if the person’s symptoms are actually caused by a treatable condition that resulted in months or years of unnecessary suffering.  To best help your loved one, avoid making any assumptions about their mental health.

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