10 Causes of Potentially Reversible Dementia Symptoms

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.


Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

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Commonly referred to as "water on the brain," normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) 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 (often referenced as the classical "triad" of 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. Early identification and treatment of NPH typically produce better results.


Vitamin B12 Defiency

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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 fully resolve.


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 actually shrink? While being tired is often accepted in our society as normal, chronic sleep deprivation as a teenager and adult can cause our memory and overall cognition to decline.

Severe insomnia and sleep deprivation can significantly impact our ability to think and reason. The good news is that there's a clear treatment 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, depending on the type and location of the tumor.


Subdural Hemotomas

Subdural Hematoma Brain Scans

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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.

When a change in condition is noticed, whether it's an increase in challenging behaviors, more lethargy or increased confusion, an infection should be suspected. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of the cause of delirium are 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, getting an accurate assessment from a professional and accessing prompt treatment 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.

A Word From Verywell

It's normal to be concerned if you recognize symptoms of cognitive decline such as memory loss or confusion. Rather than simply hope that those symptoms will resolve on their own or assume that they are due to Alzheimer's disease, be sure to see the doctor. Prompt assessment, diagnosis, and early treatment may be able to improve or even reverse that decline.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Jatoi S, Hafeez A, Riaz SU, Ali A, Ghauri MI, Zehra M. Low vitamin B12 levels: An underestimated cause of minimal cognitive impairment and dementiaCureus. 2020;12(2):e6976. doi:10.7759/cureus.6976

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  6. Coomans MB, van der Linden SD, Gehring K, at al. Treatment of cognitive deficits in brain tumour patients: current status and future directionsCurr Opin Oncol. 2019;31(6):540-547. doi:10.1097/CCO.0000000000000581

  7. Harvard Medical School. Subdural hematoma.

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By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.