As you grow older, any signs of forgetfulness, confusion and lowered cognitive abilities may be alarming and rightly so! While it is good to be observant and aware of any change in behavior it is also important to be diagnosed by a medical practitioner and not jump to conclusions on your own. Symptoms like forgetting names, dates, not following your daily routine and behavioral changes might not necessarily mean you have Alzheimer’s. There are a number of medical conditions whose symptoms mimic that of Alzheimer’s.
Here are some of the few you should be aware of:
1. Vascular Dementia
Vascular dementia in simple words is change in cognitive abilities and brain damage due to strokes. Sometimes, there is an insufficient flow of blood to the brain due to blockage of an artery or other illnesses. This results in mini strokes that are hardly ever noticed. The collective damage of such mini-strokes can result in the death of brain tissues which causes symptoms like confusion, problems with planning, reasoning, and memory that are similar to those of Alzheimer’s. Most often, these symptoms surface post a cardiac illness or atrial fibrillation i.e. irregular heart rate that increases the chances of a stroke and other heart-related problems.
2. Vitamin B12 Deficiency
As you age, it becomes more difficult for the body to absorb vitamins. Low levels of vitamin B-12 can lead to pernicious Anemia which is the presence of larger and fewer red blood cells in the bone marrow. Pernicious Anemia causes confusion, irritability, apathy and slowness which is also seen in Alzheimer’s. This is why most doctors first conduct blood tests during a diagnosis to check whether there is a vitamin deficiency, which can easily be corrected with vitamin supplements.
The thyroid secretes hormones which affect the body. Either overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism) or underproduction of them (hypothyroidism) can lead to symptoms like that of Alzheimer’s. Hypothyroidism can cause the body to slow down, make you feel weak and depressed and forgetful too. Since thyroid disorders develop at a very slow pace, the symptoms are not easily recognizable. A simple blood test can check your thyroid levels and reveal the real cause for fatigue and forgetfulness.
4. Liver and Kidney diseases
Diseases of the liver and kidney may result in accumulations of toxic metabolic waste products in the blood and urine. Kidney damage can lead to a persistent presence of albumin, a protein, in the urine. Known as albuminuria or microalbuminuria, this condition leads to a decline in cognitive functions. Damage to the liver can change the body’s metabolism. In the long term, this can lead to metabolic dementia. These changes cause confusion, changes in mood, personality and thinking and difficulty with simple tasks similar to symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
HIV can affect the brain by damaging nerve cells or infect inflammatory cells in the brain and spinal cord. These damages can disable nerve cells leading to cognitive impairment like poor concentration, confusion, forgetfulness, changes in behaviour, difficulty in learning and can even cause problems in speech. This condition is known as AIDS Dementia Complex or HIV Associated Neurocognitive Disorder (HAND). Though there is no cure, the symptoms can be controlled through treatment.
6. Fluctuating Blood sugar levels
Either high (hyperglycemia) or low (hypoglycaemia) blood glucose levels can cause damage to the nerves and blood vessels in the brain. This damage can cause memory problems, irritability, confusion, lack of attention and slower cognition like Alzheimer’s.
7. Chronic Meningitis
Meningitis is an infection of the brain or the membrane that protects it. Due to chronic meningitis, the membrane gets inflamed. This inflammation causes symptoms like confusion, impaired judgement, delirium, drowsiness, irritability and sometimes memory loss which are common to Alzheimer’s.
8. Previous head injuries/Subdural Hematoma
Injuries to the head can sometimes result in bruising on the brain and blood clots. Clots located in the subdural area i.e. between the surface of the brain and the thin membrane (dura) that covers it, can cause symptoms like Alzheimer’s. As you grow older, even minor head injuries might cause blood clots. If forgotten, the hematoma may grow and affect cognitive abilities. Symptoms might take a long while to show which may also delay diagnosis. Once diagnosed, removing the clot or draining it restores the brains functions. Sometimes, if the clot is small, it can heal on its own.
When the level of cerebrospinal fluid increases and builds up in the brain, the pressure of it can damage the brain tissue. This can cause difficulties in walking, thinking and memorising and can lead to lack of concentration, confusion, delirium and difficulty with bladder control. A surgery which inserts a shunt in the brain helps drain the fluid thus relieving the pressure.
It is important to be aware of the different illnesses and factors that give rise to symptoms like those of Alzheimer’s. Being aware can prevent panic on noticing symptoms either in yourself or your loved ones. Regular body check-ups can also help in keeping your body healthy and also reduce chances of such symptoms to show up.
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