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4 Health Conditions with Dementia-Like Symptoms

October 1, 2023

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If an older loved one begins to experience memory loss, a lack of focus, or confusion, it’s only natural to worry that they might be at risk for dementia. However, it’s essential to understand that dementia-like symptoms don’t necessarily mean your loved one has developed a form of dementia. Many of the signs adults experience can be ruled out by other health conditions, some of which are easily treatable or reversible.

At Franciscan Ministries, our Indiana memory care facilities are dedicated to providing helpful resources for individuals and families to ensure they receive the proper diagnosis and care they need. We are sharing four health conditions with dementia-like symptoms so you and your family can rule out any potential health concerns. 

1. Dehydration

As we age, the body’s ability to retain water decreases due to several factors. For instance, the kidneys might not work as effectively as they once did, leading to fluid imbalances. Many medications commonly prescribed to older adults also have diuretic effects, causing the body to lose water more rapidly. 

The symptoms of dehydration include unexplained fatigue, dizziness, and confusion, and can mimic the signs of dementia. This is why it’s crucial to stay proactive and ensure your loved one drinks enough water. Experts say that older adults should aim to drink 6 to 8 glasses of water each day. To ensure your family member gets enough water, set reminders on their smartphone or watch to go off throughout the day and make sure that they have a refillable water bottle. 

2. Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary Tract Infections, or UTIs, are incredibly uncomfortable and can strike later in life. For instance, over 10% of women aged 65 and older have reported having a UTI within the last year. The typical cause of a UTI is excess bacteria, which can cause inflammation and a burning sensation, making it difficult to use the bathroom.

However, UTIs in older adults, if they go untreated for long periods of time, can also lead to delirium and confusion, mimicking the symptoms of dementia. UTIs can cause mental changes even without a fever or the burning sensation that typically serves as the usual symptoms. 

Thankfully, UTIs are easy to treat with a simple urine test and a prescribed antibiotic.

3. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

Over 700,000 Americans have normal pressure hydrocephalus, a treatable disorder that occurs when cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the brain. When this fluid buildup occurs, it damages brain tissue and leads to cognitive problems. 

The symptoms of normal pressure hydrocephalus often mimic those of dementia and Parkinson’s, as it can cause problems with mobility, forgetfulness, and reasoning skills. In a recent study, examining 41 older adults with normal pressure hydrocephalus, each participant experienced mobility issues, 30 experienced cognitive impairment, and 14 participants reported a loss of bladder control. 

Several tests and examinations can be done to confirm a normal pressure hydrocephalus diagnosis. Brain imaging, or taking an image of the brain’s structure to detect ventricle enlargement, is a crucial procedure. The typical treatment for normal pressure hydrocephalus is a high-volume spinal tap, in which doctors insert a shunt to remove a large amount of spinal fluid. 

4. Lyme Disease

Ticks carry harmful bacteria that can get into your bloodstream through a bite, which causes an illness known as Lyme disease. If left untreated and the bacteria stays in your blood for a long time, it can harm your nervous system and cause short-term memory problems. Many people affected by Lyme disease have difficulty keeping up with conversations and feel like they have brain fog throughout the day. 

Doctors can diagnose the disease through physical findings, like a rash, but it’s important to note that not everyone shows physical symptoms of Lyme disease. However, blood tests can be taken after suspected contact to confirm a diagnosis. Most forms of Lyme disease are curable with antibiotics, but later stages often require longer-term forms of intravenous antibiotics. 

If your loved one is showing signs of confusion, memory loss, or fatigue, it’s essential to rule out any other conditions before assuming they’re experiencing the symptoms of dementia. However, suppose the diagnosis does come back as dementia. In that case, our Indiana memory care facilities provide compassionate care to help your loved one make new memories and enjoy new experiences every day in a secure environment that enhances dignity and quality of life.

Visit our website or contact a member of the Franciscan Ministries team to learn more about our memory care communities today.