Memory Loss Doesn’t Always Point to Onset of Dementia or Alzheimer’s

Several different medical conditions can create memory loss and mimic dementia

DAYTON, Ohio (July 21, 2014) – Every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s Disease – a crippling condition that gradually robs one of their ability to remember. The disease – expected to triple in people over the age of 65 by 2050 – is growing at epidemic proportions, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

With facts like this, most individuals may fear that any memory loss they are experiencing is a sign that they too might become part of the statistic. However, what may not be reported enough is the long list of disorders – from medication side effects or interactions to undiagnosed infections – that can cause memory loss, or reversible dementia.

“In simple terms, dementia is a loss of mental skills that affects daily life. It can cause problems with memory, language, or how well one thinks or plans things,” said Chandan Gupta, MD, with Monroe Medical Center. “Dementia develops when parts of the brain that are involved in learning, memory, decision making and language are affected by one or more diseases.”

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 10 percent of dementia cases are reversible if the cause is discovered and treated. Dr. Gupta, who practices family medicine within Premier HealthNet, said she has seen patients who exhibit dementia, but who are actually dealing with an underlying disorder that is causing their memory loss.

“A lot of times, particularly in the elderly, anxiety and depression can be labeled as dementia,” Dr. Gupta said. “But as these conditions are treated, a lot of times the memory recovers.”

Friedman HS  Mark Friedman, DO, a neurologist with the Clinical Neuroscience Institute, spends a lot of his office hours seeing patients experiencing memory loss. Dr. Friedman’s first priority with any new patient is gathering a patient’s medical and family history, and attempting to rule out any reversible causes of memory loss through lab work, neuroimaging of the brain, and neuropsychological testing. Dr. Friedman said there are multiple key disorders, which are often overlooked, that can cause reversible memory loss including some undiagnosed infections, vitamin deficiencies, hormone imbalances, drug interactions or depression. Abnormalities of the brain, including a structural lesion and a condition called normal pressure hydrocephalus, can also cause memory loss.

Some causes such as a chronic infection may be surprising to some, Dr. Friedman said.

“People may not appear to have an obvious, active infection or have a fever,” he said. “However, it is possible that the memory loss could be related to a chronic infection that has not yet been diagnosed. For example, HIV can sometimes cause memory loss. However, it would be rare for this to be one of the initial presenting symptoms, but I have actually seen it.”

Dr. Gupta said memory loss can be a symptom of pernicious anemia, a rare condition caused by low levels of vitamin B12. In older adults, the first signs of this deficiency are confusion, slowness and apathy, according to Harvard Medical School. Hydrocephalus is when there is excess fluid on the brain. In addition to developing dementia, individuals who develop hydrocephalus may begin to walk in a slow and hesitant manner.

Medications can often be linked to memory loss as well. As individuals age, their liver becomes less efficient at processing or metabolizing drugs and eliminates them more slowly from the body. As a result, drugs can accumulate in the body, according to information published by Harvard Medical School. Likewise, hormone imbalances such as hyperthyroidism – where the body’s thyroid is producing too much hormone – or hypothyroidism – where the body is producing too little– can have a significant impact on one’s memory.

Each and every one of these causes can potentially be treated, and therefore has the potential to be a reversible cause of memory loss, but that doesn’t mean it is a quick fix. Dr. Friedman said recovery can be a slow process, and patients must also understand that memory loss can have more than one cause. Continual care by a physician or neurologist is vital to monitor progress and determine if further testing or evaluation is needed.

Meanwhile, individuals should be encouraged that memory loss doesn’t always lead to the devastating future they envision.

“There is so much play in the media about Alzheimer’s, so whenever someone has memory issues they often fear that is what they have,” Dr. Friedman said. “You don’t hear as much about reversible memory loss, but this is a very real area of medicine, which I often see and evaluate on a regular basis. I hope people will be encouraged to go ahead and get evaluated for their concerns about memory loss since it may be something that can be reversed.”

To find out more about reversible memory loss, visit or to find a primary care physician to begin the discussion about memory loss, visit

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