Conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s disease
Q. What are some conditions that tend to be mistaken as Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is characterised by deficits in short-term memory and thinking skills. It is a chronic condition which progresses slowly over time and is ultimately fatal.
A person who presents with acute confusion, perhaps within just hours or days, is suffering from delirium and not dementia. There are many causes of delirium and these include acute stroke, infections, drugs such as sedatives, and metabolic disturbances which affect sodium, calcium or glucose levels. However, some conditions can mimic Alzheimer’s disease because they also affect memory and thinking skills in a more gradual manner. Hypothyroidism, a condition due to low thyroid hormone levels, often presents with slowness in thought, impaired concentration and memory. Rarely, brain tumours can also present with cognitive deficits.
Additionally, short-term memory can be affected by factors that impair attention, concentration and sleep. Therefore, a person who is depressed or anxious can have poor memory because he may be very preoccupied with worries and other concerns which will affect his ability to concentrate. Similarly, insomnia can impair one’s concentration and reduce one’s ability to retain information. Obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that results in inadequate oxygen supply during sleep, can result in memory problems as well.
It is most important to exclude the conditions mentioned above because they are potentially treatable and reversible. On the other hand, Alzheimer’s disease is irreversible despite drug treatment, and will inevitably progress and worsen with time. – Dr Philip Yap, senior consultant geriatrician, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital
(** PHOTO CREDIT: Old faces 4, mokra, stock.xchng)