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When It’s Not Alzheimer’s: Similar Symptoms to be Aware Of

As we enter Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month in June, we take this time to explore the many symptoms of dementia and why all roads don’t lead to Alzheimer’s per se. Many illnesses and conditions have very similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s, which is why it takes time for a definitive diagnosis by a physician. While we have many patients with Alzheimer’s in our hospice care in San Francisco and elsewhere, we also recognize that not all people with confusion, agitation and restlessness have this diagnosis.

When your aging parent, grandparent or spouse becomes forgetful, it’s easy to jump to conclusions and associate that behavior with Alzheimer’s disease or other type of dementia. Yes, memory loss and poor judgement are certainly hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, but there are other conditions that share those signs, such as Delirium, Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus, and Mild Cognitive Impairment.

Check out these conditions that could be resulting in similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s.

Vestibular Disorders

When the vestibular system (inner ear and brain) malfunctions, this can lead to problems with balance and cognitive function, points out WebMD. Common vestibular disorders include vertigo, labyrinthitis and Meniere’s disease.


This condition is caused by an infection, invasive surgery, chronic ailment, and certain medications, with symptoms including confusion, anxiety, depression and restlessness. Those suffering from delirium may find it hard to speak or comprehend the speech of others. Take a look at the side effects of any new medications you or your loved one have been taking. Sometimes switching to a new med will eliminate delirium symptoms.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH)

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH) is when a lot of fluid collects in the brain, leading to lots of pressure that can damage delicate brain tissue. The individual will them show symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease, such as disorientation and delirium.

Alcohol Consumption

Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol kills a large number of brain cells and can worsen memory issues, as well as increase the risk of liver disease that furthers limits cognitive ability. Drinking excessively can lead to symptoms of memory loss, poor judgement, aggression and anxiety — all classic symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Alcoholism is a bigger problem than you many think among the elderly population. In fact, according to, 10 to 15 percent of people don’t start drinking heavily until they are much older in age.

Bipolar and Mood Disorders

Symptoms of bipolar disease mimic those of Alzheimer’s, such as poor memory and agitation. Mood disorders make it difficult to focus and process information, leading to difficulty with comprehending and retaining information about events, daily tasks and chores.

Vitamin B-12 Deficiency

If your aging loved one is finding it hard to get motivated to make their daily meals, sometimes they don’t consume enough food, which can lead to a  vitamin deficiency. Memory loss is one of the biggest symptoms associated with vitamin B-12 deficiency, leading to behavioral changes, poor recollection and depression. This is why vitamin B-12 deficiency is often times misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. Those who are low on B12 may feel foggy, lost, and disoriented, and may even feel a tingling in their legs and arms. A vitamin B-12 supplement may be all that is needed.


Certain drugs such as anti-nausea medications, antihistamines, steroids and bladder relaxants can present symptoms that are similar to dementia. This is why it’s important to notify your doctor of any medications you are on so they can check for side effects and possible drug interactions. As we age, our bodies have a harder time of fighting off the toxic effects of certain drugs. And because so many seniors take more than one drug at once, they often interact with one another and lead to side effects such as confusion.

Lyme Disease

Ticks carry harmful diseases that negatively impact humans. One of those is Lyme disease, which is a bacteria that remains in your blood for a long time, eventually affecting the nervous system and short-term memory. Many people equate the symptoms with “brain fog,” whereby they have difficulty following what other people are saying. Sometimes, symptoms don’t show themselves till months or years after the initial bite. Antibiotics can be used to treat Lyme disease but it should be caught sooner rather than later for the best results.


Diabetics can’t achieve the right balance of blood sugar and insulin in their blood on their own. When blood sugar levels plummet, the brain lacks fuel to function correctly. You may feel uncoordinated and clumsy, or you may look like you’re drunk. You could even pass out.

As you can see, there are many conditions that can mimic Alzheimer’s. Proper diagnosis by a physician is imperative.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

We take care of many people in our hospice program who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, as well as those who suffer from other conditions that present similarly to memory disorders. Whatever the case, we can help. To lean more, contact us at 888-978-1306.