Are Your Loved One's Dementia-Like Symptoms Really Caused by Dementia?

Dementia affects millions of people worldwide, so it is understandable to immediately think a parent or family member is experiencing dementia at the first sign of cognitive difficulty. However, this may not be the case.

Several treatable health conditions can cause dementia-like symptoms, making a proper diagnosis all the more important. Early detection is often key to effective treatment and recovery, so our team at Vivage Beecan, offering long-term care options, is sharing what health conditions to keep in mind and look out for if your loved one is experiencing symptoms similar to those associated with the beginning stages of dementia.

Infections and Inflammatory Conditions

Certain infections and inflammatory conditions can affect the brain and cause dementia-like symptoms. Conditions like neurosyphilis, HIV-related cognitive impairment, and autoimmune encephalitis can result in cognitive deficits and behavioral changes.

Treatment for these conditions typically involves addressing the underlying infection or inflammation with appropriate medications, such as antibiotics or immunosuppressive drugs. Early diagnosis is crucial for the best treatment outcomes.

Medication Side Effects

Certain medications, particularly those with anticholinergic properties, can induce dementia-like symptoms. Anticholinergic drugs, commonly used to treat conditions like COPD, cardiovascular disease, allergies, and asthma, can cause cognitive impairments such as memory problems and confusion.

In cases where medication-induced cognitive symptoms are suspected, talk to your family member’s healthcare providers about adjusting or discontinuing the prescriptions. Do not stop administering prescriptions on your own. This should be done under medical supervision to ensure the underlying condition is adequately managed.

Thyroid Disorders

Thyroid dysfunction, both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, can lead to cognitive changes resembling dementia. An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can cause symptoms like forgetfulness, fatigue, and sluggish thinking, while an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can result in anxiety, agitation, and difficulty concentrating.

Treating thyroid disorders with medication or other appropriate interventions can often reverse these dementia-like symptoms. Proper diagnosis is crucial, as untreated thyroid dysfunction can lead to long-term cognitive impairment.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH)

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus is characterized by an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain's ventricles. Its symptoms can mimic dementia, including cognitive decline, gait disturbances, and urinary incontinence. However, NPH is potentially treatable with surgical interventions, such as the placement of a shunt to drain excess fluid from the brain.

Diagnosis can be challenging, as the symptoms overlap with other conditions. Comprehensive neurological assessments, including brain imaging and lumbar puncture, are often necessary to confirm NPH and determine the most appropriate treatment.


Depression is a mood disorder that can present with cognitive symptoms resembling dementia, often referred to as "pseudodementia." Individuals with depression may experience memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and slowed thinking. These symptoms can be mistaken for dementia, especially in older adults.

It is important to differentiate depression-related cognitive impairment from dementia because treatment approaches differ significantly. Properly managing depression with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both can lead to a reversal of cognitive symptoms.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Deficiencies in essential nutrients, such as vitamin B12 and folic acid, can result in cognitive decline and dementia-like symptoms. These deficiencies are more common in older adults and can often be addressed through dietary changes or supplementation.

Encourage your parent or relative to implement more fish into their diet if they are low in vitamin B12. Leafy greens, legumes, and many vegetables are excellent sources of folic acid. By implementing eggs and fortified grains into their diet, your loved one will get more vitamin B12 and folic acid in one swoop.

Sleep Disorders

Chronic sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea or insomnia, can lead to cognitive impairment, including memory difficulties and reduced attention span. Addressing the underlying sleep disorder is crucial for improving cognitive function.

Health conditions with dementia-like symptoms present a diagnostic challenge, as their clinical presentations can overlap with more common forms of dementia, like Alzheimer's disease. Accurate diagnosis is critical for ensuring appropriate treatment and support for affected individuals.

Furthermore, the importance of early intervention and personalized care cannot be overstated. Timely diagnosis allows for the implementation of strategies to slow disease progression, manage symptoms, and improve the overall quality of life for individuals and their caregivers. Our communities offer personalized long-term care options, including memory and dementia care, to help residents live every day to the fullest.

If you would like to learn more about our services and care, we invite you to visit our website or contact a member of the Vivage Beecan team.

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