Understanding Reversible Dementias

Your 75-year-old father has always been healthy and active. But lately, he forgets names and dates. And he doesn’t act quite like himself. You’re worried these may be signs of Alzheimer disease, a brain disorder. But these symptoms may not always be Alzheimer disease. If you’re concerned about a loved one, talk to a mental health professional. He or she can help find the source of the problem.

Female doctor talking with senior couple.

What are reversible dementias?

Many factors can cause symptoms that mimic Alzheimer disease. These symptoms are known as reversible dementias. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, they can be cured with proper treatment. Some factors that may lead to reversible dementias include:

  • Depression. People who are depressed feel intense sadness. As a result, they may seem tired, listless, and withdrawn.

  • Medicines. Older adults often take a number of medicines. Sometimes these medicines stay in the body too long. Or, they may interact with each other. This may cause some people to become confused and forgetful.

  • Poor eating habits. Often, older adults may not feel like eating. It may also be hard for them to chew or digest food. This can lead to poor nutrition, lack of key vitamins such as B12, or to low blood sugar. Both can affect the brain.

  • Heart or lung disease. These problems can prevent the brain from getting enough oxygen.

  • Diseases of the thyroid or other glands. Many glands affect the way people think and feel. Sometimes they don’t function as they should. This may cause changes in thought or mood.

  • Illegal drug use

  • Alcohol use

How you can help

Don’t ignore mental changes in a parent or other loved one. Sometimes, these changes can be reversed. A mental health professional or local mental health clinic can help.


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