Haims column: Understanding Alzheimer’s and dementia
While a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is a life-changing event for those diagnosed and their families, it is not always accurate.
Researchers have found that about 20 percent of Alzheimer’s cases may be misdiagnosed. Other studies have found that people with Alzheimer’s have symptoms that are mistaken for other conditions. As a result, they don’t receive treatment for Alzheimer’s when they need it.
Alzheimer’s is only one type of dementia. Dementia has many manifestations, including Huntington’s disease, Lewy body, Parkinson’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. While these diseases often present themselves similarly, they often are treated differently and present differently.
Dr. Jules Rosen, chief medical officer of Mind Springs, recently put on a fabulous presentation locally and answered many questions from the audience about Alzheimer and dementia-related ailments.
While many excellent questions were asked and answered, a few that stood out to me were related to: diagnosis/misdiagnosis, depression/anxiety, sleeplessness, and socialization.
Common reasons for Alzheimer’s misdiagnoses
Alzheimer’s misdiagnoses commonly occur due to one of the following reasons:
The person has a medical condition that triggers Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. There are many types of conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s/dementia. Some of these are treatable, including depression, insomnia, vitamin deficiency, hormone imbalance, hydrocephalus (fluid buildup around the brain), thyroid problems, brain tumors, urinary tract infections (UTI) and alcoholism.
An individual has a related form of dementia, such as Lewy bodies, vascular or Parkinson’s.
Side effects caused by prescription medications. Some of the most common classes of drugs and medications can lead to an Alzheimer’s misdiagnosis. These include antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, sleeping pills, corticosteroids, cardiovascular drugs and anticonvulsants.
In some cases, Alzheimer’s can be mistaken for episodes of forgetfulness and cognitive ailments. While worried elders and family members may interpret forgetful symptoms and personality changes as signs exclusive to Alzheimer’s, a doctor should be able to identify and delineate symptoms of Alzheimer’s and related cognitive impairment.
Anxiety/Depression with Alzheimer’s
Dr. Rosen informed the audience that he has found that one of the most successful methods of addressing anxiety and depression is not by use of medicine alone. He cautions that the use of antidepressants alone for people with cognitive concerns is unfortunately too frequent. Rather, he and his team have found a very high level of success by utilizing a combination of counseling and medicine.
Socialization and exercise are also integral components to better outcomes. A daily regimen of short walks, tai chi, or aquatic exercise may have profound abilities to help with anxiety and depression. Further, one on one social interactions where personal and life stories can be shared, are proving to be very helpful as well.
Dr. Rosen reinforced many times that anxiety and depression are very treatable ailments. Perhaps one of the easiest ways you can assist a loved one who may be suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia is in helping them avoid states of anxiety and depression. Be proactive and pay attention.
There does not appear to be a clear answer as to why Alzheimer’s and dementia patients experience difficulty with sleeping. However, by understanding some of the contributing factors, we cannot only help our loved ones, but ourselves too.
Here are some tips that may promote better sleep: Encourage physical activity, establish consistent daily routines, manage medications, create a comfortable sleep environment, and treat underlying conditions like apnea, snoring and restless leg syndrome.
If you or a loved one is a caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia, make sure you or the caregiver is getting proper sleep. If caregivers don’t get the sleep they need, there will be inevitable problems. Patience and energy levels dissipate very fast for those who are sleep deprived. Avoid harmful outcomes by seeking assistance.
Create a record
In a note book, write down observations detailing how much the person has changed or how much you think they may not be acting like themselves. Understanding the physical and health needs of your loved one will help in monitoring and responding to changes that may occur.
It will be important that you provide the medical provider with copious notes about your loved one’s general medical history: current and past. This includes a detailed list of current medications and their dosages.
If you or someone you know is affected by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, it’s time to learn the facts. It’s very important to learn how to recognize the symptoms of the disease so you can adjust to changes and develop a plan. Read or go online to learn about Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia.
I promise you, you are not alone in managing and assisting a loved one who may be experiencing cognitive decline. This is a very natural cycle of life, and there are many resources for help locally and nationally. Share your concerns with a friend, family member, and of course, medical providers.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Aspen and the surrounding areas. His contact information is,, 970-328-5526.
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