Vail Daily guest column: doctors sometimes misdiagnose Alzheimer’s disease |

Vail Daily guest column: doctors sometimes misdiagnose Alzheimer’s disease

While a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease 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.

What should families and caregivers do when they suspect an Alzheimer’s misdiagnosis in their mom, dad or grandparent?

Common misdiagnoses

Alzheimer’s misdiagnoses commonly occur due to one of three reasons:

• The person has a medical condition that triggers Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. More than 100 types of conditions mimic Alzheimer’s. Some of these are treatable, including depression, insomnia, vitamin deficiency, hormone imbalance, hydrocephalus (fluid buildup around the brain), thyroid problems, brain tumors 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 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 rare cases, Alzheimer’s can be mistaken for episodes of forgetfulness and cognitive decline. While worried elders may interpret these symptoms as signs of Alzheimer’s, your doctor should be able to identify these as false signs, making misdiagnosis unlikely.

What to Do

If you believe your loved one has been misdiagnosed, then begin observing and recording his or her behaviors and symptoms.

Doctors often use information provided by patients and their families to help them in making their diagnosis.

Here are some tips to helping your loved one and medical provider with concerns you have about accessing Alzheimer’s development:

• 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.

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.

• Educate yourself. 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.

Alzheimer’s is only one type of cause of dementia. Dementia has many causes that include 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.

If you’re still unsure, then request a PET scan to detect any amyloid plaque buildup, an indicator of Alzheimer’s. While a PET scan cannot confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, an absence of amyloid plaques helps rule out Alzheimer’s. A PET scan is not always covered by Medicare or most insurance policies. Talk to your medical provider and insurance company.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. His contact information is, or 970-328-5526.

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