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Haims: Get educated about Alzheimer’s and dementia

Alzheimer’s is a life-changing event for both those diagnosed with the disease and their families.

Researchers have found that about 20% 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 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.

Common reasons for Alzheimer’s misdiagnosis

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.
  • Head injuries, also known as traumatic brain injuries, have shown to be a risk factor for the development of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, the relationship is complex.
  • 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.

Sleep concerns

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 a caregiver is not getting he 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.

What to do when you suspect a misdiagnosis

If you believe your loved one has been misdiagnosed, begin observing and recording his or her behaviors and symptoms. Doctors often use the information provided by patients and their families to help them in making their diagnosis. 

Over the past few years, doctors have been able to utilize blood testing as an effective means of identifying Alzheimer’s. While testing is not readily available within doctor offices, many research facilities are able to run tests.

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 notebook, 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.

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 in accordance with medical providers. The National Institutes of Health, the Alzheimer’s Association, and ScienceDaily web sites have excellent and reliable information. Go online and learn about Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia

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.


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