Vacationing in Florida visiting an elderly parent or relative this winter? Making a seasonal trip up North to visit a senior loved one this year? If you haven’t seen them in a while, don’t falsely diagnose your elder love one or senior family member with Dementia just because they seem apathetic, confused, moody, disoriented, dizzy, or forgetful!

Dementia involves the gradual loss of mental functions such as thinking, memory, communicating and reasoning. Symptoms are generally manifested as changes in personality, mood, and behavior. Many families often discount the symptoms of Dementia as a normal process of aging, but Dementia is not a natural part of aging. Many older Americans never experience significant memory loss or any form of Dementia. Various diseases or medical conditions can cause or mimic Dementia symptoms when they begin to interfere with daily functioning.

Dementia is related to age, certainly, and cognitive decline usually develops slowly. But sometimes symptoms seemingly related to Dementia progress quickly and are caused by things like substance abuse, interactions of medications, severe depression and anxiety, hormone and vitamin imbalances or nutritional deficiencies. Even sleep apnea can cause the cognitive function to become sluggish and result in poor concentration. In some cases thyroid problems or urinary tract infections are the real culprits when symptoms are misdiagnosed as Dementia. These symptoms can be treated and in some cases the condition misdiagnosed as Dementia can be reversed.  

Donald R. Watren, MD, a prominent South Florida physician, suggests that “both prescription drugs as well as over-the-counter drugs in toxic combination can cause Dementia-like symptoms and memory loss. It might be wise to examine all the prescriptions and other substances a patient is ingesting, including sleeping pills, antidepressants, antihistamines, and anti-anxiety medications, etc., and then wean them off as appropriate.”  

For the record, Alzheimer’s disease causes 50% to 60% of all Dementia. Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, which affect nerve cells in the brain, cause dementia as well as medical conditions like stroke that affect blood vessels. Fluid in the brain and illness due to kidney, liver, and lung diseases can all lead to a diagnosis of Dementia. The good news is that the newer and better drugs which treat HIV have caused the occurrence of AIDS-associated Dementia to decline.

So what “Dementia” can be treated? Dementia mimicking symptoms that may actually be caused by the following, but not limited to:

  •   ~  Adult ADHD
  •   ~  Anxiety
  •   ~  Bipolar Disorder
  •   ~  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  •   ~  Concussion
  •   ~  Delirium
  •   ~  Delusional disorder
  •   ~  Depression
  •   ~  Dissociative Amnesia
  •   ~  Drug interactions
  •   ~  Hearing loss (undiagnosed)
  •   ~  HIV/AIDS
  •   ~  Hypoglycemia
  •   ~  Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  •   ~  Hysteria
  •   ~  Intermittent Explosive Disorder
  •   ~  Metabolic disorders
  •   ~  Migraines
  •   ~  Poisoning (lead, mercury, manganese)
  •   ~  Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
  •   ~  Sleep Disorders
  •   ~  Stress
  •   ~  Stroke (TIA)
  •   ~  Subdural hematoma usually caused by head injury
  •   ~  Substance abuse (long term) or withdrawal
  •   ~  Syphilis
  •   ~  Tumors (removable)
  •   ~  Urinary Incontinence
  •   ~  Vision Loss (undiagnosed)

In conclusion, adverse drug reactions, urinary tract infection and thyroid disorder symptoms can all mimic Dementia symptoms. Something as simple as a deficiency in certain vitamins like B12 or severe lack of diet and nutrition can contribute to loss of brain function. If there are noticeable cognitive changes in an elder loved one or senior family member you haven’t seen or visited in a while – don’t dismiss it as Dementia – there may be an alternative diagnosis. Get them to a physician ASAP. Often after diagnosis and treatment, the symptoms can be reversed.

Dr. Watren reminds us that: “Some level of mental decline with age is normal. However, certain dementia mimicking symptoms can be treated or reversed, so it is very important to be sure your doctor is thorough when making a diagnosis, so as not to miss any potentially treatable conditions.”

Contact Us: Regal has experienced caregivers and clinicians to assist with private duty in-home care if needed or serve as care manager and advocate for the client should dementia be the true diagnosis. Contact Ferial Andre, RN, CCM, CDP, at 561-499-8382 or for an assessment or consultation.

Donald R. Watren, MD, is a Board Certified Physician in private practice in South Florida and is affiliated with MD-VIP and Good Samaritan Hospital. Dr. Watren can be reached at his West Palm Beach office by calling 561-655-8990. Or visit for more information.


This article is not intended as medical or legal advice.