Three Conditions that Could Be Mistaken for Alzheimer’s Disease

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

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Most older Americans with loss of cognitive function get a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.  However, in actuality, a host of other brain disorders may be to blame. To complicate matters further, more than one disease may be present in any given patient.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, doctors were taught that almost all dementias were Alzheimer’s disease, in which plaques and tangles form in the brain. However, studies have since shown that 20 to 40 percent of dementias have another cause: 

  1. Vascular contributions to cognitive impairment and dementia (VCID) are conditions caused by stroke or other blood vessel damage that lead to significant changes to memory, thinking, and behavior. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) confirms that there are “two forms of VCID—vascular dementia and vascular cognitive impairment (VCI) which arise as a result of risk factors that similarly increase the risk for cerebrovascular disease (stroke), including atrial fibrillation (a problem with the rhythm of the heartbeat), high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. VCID accounts for up to 10 percent of dementia cases.”
  1. Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), a relative of Parkinson’s disease, is “a condition associated with abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain,” according to the NIA. These deposits also called Lewy bodies detrimentally affect chemicals in the brain which can ultimately lead to problems with thinking, movement, behavior, and mood. Patients with Lewy body disease experience a rapid decline,    often involving falls and changes to gait, as well as sleep difficulties and hallucinations. 
  1. Frontotemporal lobar degeneration, which affects personality, language and behavior, accounts for less than 10 percent of dementia cases. Frontotemporal degeneration can affect behavior such that misdiagnosed patients may become alienated from family members who do not understand the reason for increasingly undesirable shifts in personality.  

Although, there is no cure for these diseases yet, their symptoms can be understood and treated; thus, proper diagnosis is crucial.  

Read more from National Public Radio.