Alzheimer’s Not the Only Source Of Memory Loss

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Alzheimer’s disease is a growing problem in the United States, with someone being diagnosed every 67 seconds, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The disease can be crippling as it gradually drains your ability to remember.

These statistics may seem scary, but memory loss does not always lead to or involve Alzheimer’s. In some cases memory loss is reversible, a symptom of reversible dementia. That is, dementia that is caused by a variety of conditions and resolved when these underlying conditions are successfully treated.

Dementia, a loss of mental skills that affects daily life, can cause problems with memory, language, or how well you think or plan. Dementia develops when parts of the brain that are involved in learning, memory, decision making, and language are affected by one or more diseases.

About 10 percent of dementia cases can be reversed when they are found and treated, according to the National Institutes of Health.

When seeing patients with memory loss, health care providers rule out reversible causes of memory loss. They do this by collecting your medical and family history and ordering lab work, neuroimaging of the brain, and neuropsychological testing.

Causes of reversible dementia include:

  • Undiagnosed infections that may not cause symptoms that are noticed by patients
  • Drug interactions
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Hormone imbalances, such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, in which the thyroid creates too much or too little hormone
  • Depression. Particularly with the elderly, anxiety and depression can be mistaken for dementia.
  • Brain abnormalities, such as a structural lesion and a condition called normal pressure hydrocephalus
  • Pernicious anemia. This rare condition is caused by low levels of vitamin B12. The first signs of the deficiency in older adults are confusion, apathy, and slowness, according to Harvard Medical School.
  • Medications. With age, the liver becomes less efficient at processing drugs, which are eliminated more slowly from the body.

Each of these causes of memory loss can be treated, with the possibility of reversing the memory loss. But treatment can be a slow process, and more than one cause can be involved.

If you experience initial signs of memory loss, don’t jump to the conclusion that you have Alzheimer’s or another irreversible type of dementia. This reaction is understandable, as there are more reports in the media of irreversible forms of memory loss than reversible forms.

Instead, call your health care provider for an evaluation to determine if your memory loss could be reversible.

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