If you are an adult child caring for an aging parent, you may be observing a few behaviors that are setting off alarm bells that something is wrong. It might be forgetfulness, confusion or one of the other symptoms commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. These can all be early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of dementia. But they can also be caused by several other reversible illnesses and conditions. Before a physician settles on a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, they will likely perform tests to rule out other potential causes.
6 Health Conditions that Mimic Alzheimer’s Disease
- If your loved one has recently started or discontinued a new medication either one could be the culprit. Some medicines commonly taken by older adults can create confusion. A new medication might also be interacting with an existing prescription or over-the-counter medicine to create an adverse reaction. There are also some medications that can’t be abruptly discontinued without risking harmful side effects. Review your loved one’s medication list with their physician and pharmacist to see if anything on it could be causing the troubling symptoms you are witnessing.
- A common cause of Alzheimer’s-like symptoms is a Vitamin B deficiency. If an older adult doesn’t maintain a healthy diet full of B-12 rich foods like fish, eggs, red meat, enriched cereals, and low-fat dairy products, a B-12 deficiency might be the source of their problems.
- Thyroid disease can also mimic dementia. If the thyroid is overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism) it can cause memory loss and other dementia-like symptoms. This can be easily diagnosed with a blood test.
- Depression can be another possible cause of forgetfulness, inattentiveness, and lethargy. Pseudodementia occurs when a person’s depressed mood creates symptoms that can be confused with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Dehydration can lead to memory loss, disorientation and confusion. People often believe summer’s warmer weather is the most common cause of dehydration, but our elderly are actually at risk all year long. That is because as we age our body often fails to recognize thirst. Dehydration can also occur when seniors who have mobility problems are unable to get to the kitchen as often as they need to for water.
- If blood sugar is too high or two low or diabetes isn’t controlled, the resulting behavior can look like dementia. It is important for older adults to have blood tests done to detect these conditions and treat them quickly.
While the number of older adults in Michigan and across the U.S. being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s continues to climb, it is important not to jump to the conclusion of Alzheimer’s disease without further testing. The conditions outlined above can typically be reversed or controlled with the proper treatment.
Caring for a spouse is something most partners will face at one time or another. It might be short-term while they rehabilitate from a surgery or longer term if they suffer from a more debilitating disease such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. For older adults, having a spouse as a caregiver offers the advantages of maintaining privacy, easing embarrassment and receiving care from someone who knows them well. For the caregiving spouse, the role can be personally fulfilling. It can, however, create health risks for the caregiver if the needs and stress become too great. It has been well-documented that caregiving spouses have more health problems than their non-caregiving peers.
Recognizing the Warning Signs for Caregiver Stress
How can a spousal caregiver recognize when they are putting their own health at risk? These are a few of the most common warning signs of caregiver stress:
- Becoming emotional or angry quickly
- Insomnia or problems with sleep
- Feelings of sadness, sorrow or hopelessness
- Not maintaining your own personal physician appointments
- Relying on unhealthy habits such as too much caffeine, smoking or drinking
- Not keeping up with your own exercise program
- Inability to find time to prepare healthy meals and snacks
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Withdrawing from hobbies and groups you’ve always enjoyed
- Feeling angry with or resentful of your spouse
- Losing touch with extended family members or friends
- Feeling frustrated and angry more frequently
- Unintended weight gain or weight loss
If you identify with more than one or two of these warning signs, it might be time to take a short-term break from caregiving or maybe even time to accept that you need help with your responsibilities on a long-term basis. If there aren’t any other family members that can help pitch in, you could consider respite care at an assisted living community. A short-term “respite” stay for your loved one allows you much needed time to rest and recharge your own health. Your loved one can stay at the community for a few days up to one month. If you live in Michigan and have questions about Short-term stays, our FAQ Section may be of help.
My great aunt lives on a large, wooded farm in mid-Michigan. Unfortunately, she is almost 90 miles away from us. We bought her an iPad during the holidays and are trying to find ways to encourage her to use it to keep in touch with us and to connect with other homebound seniors. Do you have any advice to offer us on ways she can safely make those connections?
Sandy in Saginaw, Michigan
What a thoughtful gift and a great way to help your aunt stay in touch with you! According to a study from Pew Internet Research adults 65 years and older are the fastest growing social media demographic and tablets, like an iPad, are easy for seniors to use. After you have your great aunt set up, preferably with WiFi in her home, here are a couple of sites you can help her navigate as you are teaching her how to use her iPad:
- Skype or another free video chat service. This may be the very best way to help her feel connected with you and other far away family members. It also offers you peace of mind by allowing you to “see” her for yourself every few days.
- Find friends on Facebook. Helping your aunt set up a Facebook page (complete with privacy settings) is another way for her stay in touch. She might be able to reconnect with childhood friends and neighbors that she has lost touch with over the years. It might also help her save money if she “Likes” some of her local merchants so she can watch for sales.
- Set up an email account. This is still the place where older adults spend the majority of their online hours – reading and responding to email messages. Having email access will allow her to keep in touch with you and other loved ones more easily.
- AARP Online. Their site is rich with resources, helpful articles, entertainment opportunities, online communities and more. You will find information on topics ranging from healthy eating in later life to travel tips for seniors.
We hope this helps your aunt get started on her new iPad!
All the best,
Are you an older adult who enjoys staying connected through social media?
Do you have any tips to share with Sandy? Please add them in the Comments below.