The answer to this question may surprise you. There are some conditions that mimic dementia and cause cognitive impairment. This is what we refer to as reversible dementia. In order to define the term, we first must understand what dementia is. Dementia is a collection of disorders involving cognitive impairment, and there are many different types. Alzheimer’s disease is the most frequent diagnosis, but not all dementia is Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s cannot be improved and is irreversible dementia. Reversible dementias on the other hand can be improved or eliminated. As we care for people with all sorts of conditions and diseases it is important to be aware of any behaviors or issues that we observe so we can inform healthcare professionals and an accurate diagnosis can be given to the patient. Let us define reversible dementia.
Reversible dementia is any type of dementia caused by a condition or agent that, once treated, or removed, can be controlled, cured, or improved. There are many different conditions that cause potentially reversible dementia. The most common conditions are:
- Alcohol-induced cognitive impairment
- Nutritional deficiencies (including vitamin B12 and dehydration)
- Medication side effects and interactions
- Metabolic disorders
- A variety of infections, especially chronic ones
- Heart disease
- Brain tumors
- Environmental toxins
- Subdural hematomas
- Sleep disorders
- Brain trauma
- Drug abuse
So, are these dementias always reversible? Sadly, no, not always. Because in order to be reversed, the underlying condition causing dementia must be diagnosed and treated correctly early on in its presence. If these conditions are not brought under control or cured, or are left untreated, then brain damage can result, and that can be permanent. Many cases cannot be reversed because people assume that since the condition is dementia it cannot be cured. However, if the dementia diagnosis is in question the next step should include a physical exam, bloodwork, imaging, and neuropsychological testing. Once a diagnosis has been made, it must be followed by proper treatment of the underlying condition. Then, and only over time, might it possibly be reversed.
Getting a memory screening is a simple and safe “healthy brain check-up” that tests memory skills and other thinking skills. A memory screening is not used to diagnose any particular illness and does not replace consultation with a physician; however, it is an important first step toward finding out if an individual may have a memory problem. Individuals who score below the normal threshold, or who still have concerns about their memory, are advised to follow up with their physician for a thorough evaluation. A memory screening once a year, like an annual physical, is an effective way to determine if your cognitive skills are changing.
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