Happy Monday! This week's question is from Anne (Piedmont Writer).
Is there any other kind of disease that could be misconstrued as Alzheimer's? And if there is such a disease, is there a magic pill that will take care of it? My character has the signs of Alzheimer's but I don't really want her to have it, I want her to be curable.
Great question Anne! There are a few classic problems that can easily be mistaken for Alzheimers, and (usually) do have a magic pill.
B-12 (or cobalamin) deficiency is a cause of symptoms that mimic dementia. A patient with such a deficiency might be elderly, pale "lemon" colored from anemia and bilirubin (pigments from broken down, abnormal red blood cells), have a shiny tongue and be mentally sluggish. They might also have a wide, shuffling gait, personality changes and numbness of the hands and feet.
The treatment? B-12 pills. Or, if they cannot absorb B-12 orally (due to stomach surgery, pernicious anemia, or low acid in the stomach from being elderly) then a shot of B-12 in the arm will start fixing things. Usually these patients need B-12 supplement for life (by monthly shots or pills).
The textbook hypothyroid patient has a metabolism that has seriously slowed down. They are sluggish, tired, slow-thinking, slow-talking, and often have weight gain. They might appear depressed and can't remember things well. Their hair will be coarse, their skin cool and clammy, and their limbs appear puffy.
The cure is giving thyroid hormones via pills. Levothyroxine (trade name Synthroid, among others) is given and titrated over several weeks to until blood tests and symptoms normalize. This is also usually a lifetime medication.
Okay, there is no blood test for this unlike the other diseases discussed today, but depression in the elderly can easily be mistaken for dementia, especially when symptoms appear as sluggishness and mental slowing, poor appetite and difficulty concentrating. Usually a good evaluation (along with screening for the above problems) can help diagnose this. And there are different antidepressants that really are modern miracle pills to help this condition.
A very late manifestation of untreated syphilis is called "late neurosyphilis". Syphilis is really not around in the post-antibiotic era, but it definitely pops up once in a while. The symptoms are progressive dementia over a few years, and sometimes psychiatric symptoms like depression, anxiety and psychosis. They may have tremors in their face and hands, and slurred speech.
A blood test can pick this up, the definitive diagnostic test is a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).
Okay, Anne! Have fun picking your diagnosis! And let us know which one you choose!
Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice!
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Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!