Is It Reversible?

As our parents or someone we care for age, we may notice some behaviors and symptoms often associated with Alzheimer’s. Perhaps our loved one has gotten a bit forgetful or just can’t think of someone’s name or the correct word during a conversation. Maybe they seem to be getting a lot of “senior moments”.  It’s very easy to panic and assume they may be getting Alzheimer’s.  Actually, that panic is a good thing.  It may motivate us to get our loved one in to see their doctor.  If Alzheimer’s is the cause of their symptoms, early treatment may slow the progression of this disease.  Even more importantly, if it isn’t Alzheimer’s, it may be totally reversible.  Yes…….reversible.  That’s why it’s important to get the right diagnosis quickly. 

Early diagnosis is necessary so treatment can begin before any permanent damage to the brain occurs.  The most common cause of reversible dementia is medication.  The aging body reacts differently to medications.  The liver doesn’t work as well in terms of metabolizing the drugs and the kidneys are slow to eliminate them from the body.  This combination makes the amount of drugs in the body accumulate quite quickly.  Multiply this retention by the higher number of drugs consumed for a variety of medical problems and you end up with a lot of medication in your system at any given time.  The drugs that can cause dementia like symptoms include: corticosteroids, sedatives, antihistamines, heart medications, and antidepressants.

A low level of Vitamin B12 is another culprit.  A very low level of this vitamin causes pernicious anemia.  The first symptoms of this type of anemia are slowness, confusion, and apathy.  Sound a lot like Alzheimer’s, doesn’t it? B12 injections can eliminate the deficiency and get rid of those symptoms.

Another common disorder, a thyroid hormone imbalance, causes dementia like symptoms.  Hyperthyroidism, which is an overproduction of thyroid hormones, as well as hypothyroidism, which is an underproduction of thyroid hormone, both cause what looks like dementia.  Removing the thyroid or a thyroid replacement medication can often reverse the dementia.

So you see, panicking about what looks like Alzheimer’s can be a good thing.  If your loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, early treatment will help slow its progression.  If the symptoms are caused by some other underlying condition, the cognitive problems may be reversible or well managed.  In either case, the sooner you know, the better the results will be.  What’s your experience been?  Share below and visit us at



Filed under Aging in Place, Alzheimer's, Caregiver, companionship, Health care services, Senior Care, Trillium HomeCare, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Is It Reversible?

  1. I do agree “the sooner the better” in terms of having aging parents see a doctor when possible problems arise. However, I wonder about panic being “a good thing” for many reasons.

    The Help! Aging Parents post about having difficult discussions with parents–using memory as an example–( suggests, in part:
    1. Understanding that this is a very scarey subject and needs to be addressed with sensitivity.
    2. A discussion about memory and seeing a doctor needs to include the fact that the cause may be as simple as medication (a fact you point out).
    3. Showing respect for parents includes partnering with them in the decision to phone the doctor–except when their situations is such that it’s threatening their life and limb, in which case you call immediately if a parent won’t.

    Parents who still have a good mind sense our panic. This is a subject that deserves the time it takes to act thoughtfully and get it right.

  2. You’re so right…it’s never a good idea to panic a loved one. As caregivers though, we can be reluctant to see what’s right before our eyes. It’s easy to think things are fine as long as nothing happens. Hindsight is great. Sometimes we need to motivate ourselves to be proactive about our loved one’s care— without alarming them of course.

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