When It Isn’t Dementia- 5 Conditions Mimic Dementia

by | Jun 11, 2018 | Dementia


There are several conditions that often mimic the symptoms of dementia. These conditions may also cause changes in memory, behavior and personality changes. Additionally, when coupled with dementia they may also cause the symptoms to worsen. If someone suddenly has changes in memory, personality or behavior take them to a doctor immediately. Likewise, before accepting a dementia diagnosis make sure the following conditions have been researched.

Urinary Tract Infections

This is one of the most common conditions that mimic dementia in elderly folks. A UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) can be a common occurrence in the elderly. The symptoms, however, are very different from the same type of infection in a younger person. Elderly people often do not experience frequent urination, fever or burning when urinating. Symptoms that are common include confusion and anxiety. Additionally, mood swings or behavior changes and sometimes hallucinations may be noticed.

“Mom would go from the sweet southern belle that is her nature to spewing obscenities like a sailor! We had no idea what was wrong. Now, when her personality does a flip like this we immediately have her checked for a UTI.” Colleen

And these infections are also common in people who do have Alzheimer’s or some other type of dementia. This can make the situation even worse.

Vitamin B-12 Deficiency

Pernicious anemia is a rare condition that is caused by low levels of Vitamin B-12. It occurs when a person cannot absorb the vitamin from their food. Confusion, slowness, and irritability are common symptoms. These are symptoms that mimic dementia. The problems usually resolve with regular injections of B-12.

What to do?

Talk to your doctor if you suspect that this could be a problem.  A blood test can tell if you have a problem. Vitamin B-12 injections are not expensive. And patients can usually give it to themselves.


Mimic dementia

People who drink alcohol excessively for 10 or more years can develop symptoms that mimic Alzheimer’s Disease. Alcoholism can lead to a condition called Korsakoff syndrome. While other things can cause this condition, it is most common in Alcoholics.

Korsakoff syndrome is a chronic memory disorder. It is caused by severe deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B-1). This vitamin helps brain cells produce energy from sugar. Low thiamine levels impair brain function. The cells can simply not get enough energy.

Often but not always, Korsakoff syndrome is preceded by an acute brain reaction. This reaction is due to extremely low levels of thiamin. Furthermore, this is referred to as an episode of Wernicke encephalopathy. Confusion, staggering and stumbling, lack of coordination and abnormal involuntary eye movements make this a medical emergency.

People afflicted with this syndrome often “make-up” information they cannot remember. They aren’t really lying. And most of the time really believe what they are telling you. Regardless, it can be very upsetting for families.

Unfortunately, there are no definitive lab tests or brain scans to confirm this condition. Rather the diagnosis is made by a physician’s best judgment based on the symptoms.

The Good News

Oral supplements of Thiamin or even injections may be prescribed. Of course, no longer drinking alcohol is a necessary part of the treatment. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, recent data suggests that 25% may recover completely. Additionally, 50% recover but not completely. And the remaining 25% show no improvement.

Reactions to Medications

Unfortunately, most modern medications are not without side effects. There are medications that can cause symptoms. And these may even result in a false dementia diagnosis. The list is long.  There are many types of medications found to cause dementia symptoms. Common medications include sedatives, narcotics, and cardiovascular drugs. Also, anti-anxiety medications, corticosteroids, and anti-Parkinson drugs may be to blame. Additionally, antihistamines, anticonvulsants, and antidepressants can cause symptoms. Many seniors are on multiple medications in these categories.

So, what do you do?

Schedule a Brown Bag Consultation

Mimic Dementia

The first step is to have a thorough analysis of the medications you are taking. A pharmacist who specializes in Geriatric care would be a logical choice.

A brown bag consultation can be arranged. This is when you bring all medications (including over the counter and supplements) into the pharmacist. A qualified pharmacist will be able to look at each medication individually. She will then look at how the different medications work together. And she may discover what problems combinations may cause.

“Sometimes we discover patients taking two or even three medications for the same result.  All have been prescribed by different doctors. Taking too much of a good thing may not be a good thing.” Amanda Faught- Licensed Pharmacist

Your pharmacist can speak to your doctor about any concerns you may have. Be sure to bring someone with you to this meeting. A friend or family member can be your advocate. You could also hire a Life Care Manager to help you.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea has been linked to dementia in several ways. And lack of quality sleep can mimic dementia. But sometimes the symptoms may go away once the sleep apnea is treated.

A Good Nights Sleep is Critical for Your Health

Mimic Dementia- Lack of Sleep

 “I would get up three or four times a night. And I was exhausted in the morning. Furthermore, I started making more mistakes at work. Also I had trouble concentrating. My daughter noticed I was forgetting a lot of things.”

Sharon (62 years old) went to her doctor. She did not want to take sleep aids, worried about the side effects. But something had to change. Sharon’s doctor ordered a sleep study. She discovered Sharon had Sleep Apnea.

“I wasn’t just waking up 2 or 4 times a night but literally 100’s of times. No wonder I wasn’t thinking straight. I was depriving my brain of much-needed oxygen all night long” Sharon said.

Sharon was fitted with a C.P.A.P. machine. Patients wear a mask hooked up to a machine. This makes sure you get continuous airway pressure. The machine is bulky and may be uncomfortable at first. But Sharon says it has given her, her life back!

Additionally, she has started exercising and eating a healthy diet. This will promote both physical and brain health.

“I feel like I have been given a second chance at life! I am not going to squander the opportunity for health and wellbeing.”

Get To The Bottom Of The Situation

When someone you know is exhibiting cognitive changes it is important to get to the bottom of the situation. These 5 conditions can go unchecked. You may want to see if you can find a geriatric physician in your area. A geriatric physician is trained to look for signs and symptoms that affect people over the age of 60. And remember there are a lot of lifestyle changes you may be able to make.  And these changes may keep your body and brain functioning longer. ?



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