10 Causes of Potentially Reversible Dementia Symptoms

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

"Water on the Brain"/Laguna Design/Science Photo Library /Getty Images.

Worried that a loved one has Alzheimer's disease? While you may be right, you should be sure to have a physician conduct a thorough evaluation to be certain. Some illnesses and conditions that look and act like Alzheimer's are reversible with appropriate treatment. Here are 10 potentially reversible causes of dementia symptoms, beginning with normal pressure hydrocephalus.

Commonly referred to as "water on the brain," normal pressure hydrocephalus is a condition where extra spinal fluid gets trapped in the brain instead of traveling through the brain and to the spinal column. This extra fluid often causes a group of three symptoms occurring together:

  1. Confusion and Memory Loss
  2. Urinary Incontinence
  3. Balance and Walking Problems

Proper treatment can sometimes- but not always- reverse some or all of the memory impairment and confusion.

Is It Vitamin B12 Defiency or Alzheimer's?

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Low levels of vitamin B12 can cause symptoms that are very similar to Alzheimer's disease. These include memory loss and behavior changes such as agitation and irritation. Some people develop a deficiency in vitamin B12 due to poor diets. Other causes of this deficiency include health problems such as pernicious anemia or Crohn's disease. Older adults can also develop a reduced ability to absorb this vitamin.

Vitamin B12 supplementation can often improve or restore your memory and overall cognitive functioning.

Thyroid Disorders

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One possible cause of memory loss, difficulty finding the right word and concentrating, poor spatial organization and slower visual processing is a thyroid problem. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause frustrating cognitive symptoms, but with treatment, many people's symptoms resolve.

Read more: Do Thyroid Problems Really Cause Memory Loss?

Sleep Deficits

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Did you know that sleep deprivation affects your memory and can also cause some areas of your brain to shrink? Not enough sleep can cause your memory and overall cognition to decline. The good news is that there's a clear solution to this cause of memory loss.

Medications Side Effects or Interactions

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It's not uncommon to see people who are on many different medications. While they might all be appropriate and beneficial, there are also times when some medications should be discontinued or decreased. Multiple medications increase the chance for medication interactions and negative side effects, and both of these are well-documented causes of confusion and memory loss.

Ask your physician to review your medication list and make sure she knows all of the medicines that have been prescribed for you by other doctors such as specialists. Cognition can significantly improve if this issue is identified and addressed.

Brain Tumors

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While no one wants to hear that they have a brain tumor, depending on the size, location and treatment, a brain tumor can at times be perceived to be a more favorable diagnosis than Alzheimer's disease because of the potential for treatment. Brain tumors can cause many symptoms including some that affect memory, judgment, personality changes and impulse control.

Effectiveness of treatment can range from little to no benefit all the way to full restoration.

Subdural Hemotomas

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In older adults, subdural hematomas- also called subdural hemorrhages- can develop from what may seem a minor bump on the head. Blood vessels can tear and break, causing blood to pool in between the outside of the brain and the dura, its covering. 

Symptoms of a subdural hematoma include confusion, lethargy, difficulty with speech and headaches. Treatment can involve medication or surgery to drain the blood off the brain. Outcome varies depending on the success of the treatment.


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Delirium is an acute (or sudden) state of confusion that is different from normal functioning. In older adults, delirium is often caused by an infection such as a urinary tract infection or pneumonia. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of the cause of delirium is important for restored cognition.

Depression (Pseudodementia)

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Sometimes, symptoms of depression can look like dementia; this is often referred to as pseudodementia. Depression can cause a person to lack motivation, have difficulty concentrating or paying attention and feel lethargic about any activity. These symptoms can overlap with early signs of dementia, yet often people with depression can perform fairly well on cognitive screening tests, even if they report memory problems.

Understanding the symptoms of depression and getting an accurate assessment from a professional are important for your cognitive and emotional health.

Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s Syndrome

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A deficiency in thiamine (vitamin B1) is often, but not always, caused by alcohol abuse and can lead to Wernicke's encephalopathy and Korsakoff's syndrome. Wernicke's encephalopathy is an acute condition of confusion, abnormal vision and eye movements, and problems with balance and body control. This condition is sometimes reversible with emergency treatment at the hospital.

Korsakoff's syndrome is typically a long-term condition that sometimes follows an incident of Wernicke's encephalopathy. It more closely resembles dementia's symptoms and includes confusion, memory loss, hallucinations and confabulation (making up stories). 

According to the Alzheimer's Association,  about 25% of people with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome will fully recover.

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