10 Conditions That Can Mimic Dementia

by Amanda Page Editor


People who drink alcohol excessively for at least 10 years can experience impaired thinking that looks similar to Alzheimer’s disease. In these cases, the brain’s areas that are linked to memory, orientation and attention are compromised; however, verbal skills are not always impaired. Abstinence from alcohol may allow mental functioning to improve in these cases.

Sleep apnea

This condition involves interruptions in breathing throughout the night that reduces the brain’s oxygen levels and prevents deep sleep. These interruptions, which can happen 10 or more times each hour, can result in symptoms that mimic dementia. If the person has dementia, sleep apnea can cause the symptoms to worsen. Sleep apnea can be treated.


This condition causes changes in mental functioning similar to dementia. The mental changes develop in a matter of days or hours. Additionally, consciousness can fluctuate between drowsiness and alertness. Delirium is a medical emergency because it often is a symptom of a sudden life-threatening illness.


This condition can cause forgetfulness, disorientation, slowed responses and difficulty maintaining attention. Called pseudo dementia, a person suffers a depressed mood before experiencing any mental decline. The person often describes loss of memory and lack of concentration. The person may look sad or worried and may communicate in an expressionless tone.

Reactions to medications

Drugs can accumulate in the body in older people due to decline in kidney and liver function. Drugs that can cause symptoms similar to dementia include sedatives, narcotics, cardiovascular drugs, anti-anxiety medications, corticosteroids, anti-Parkinson drugs, antihistamines, anticonvulsants and antidepressants.

Thyroid disease

Dementia-like symptoms can be caused by thyroid disease. Hyperthyroidism (which is the overproduction) can be dealt with through surgically removing the thyroid or destroying it with radioactive iodine. These treatments usually correct cognitive issues. Hypothyroidism (underproduction) is usually treated with hormone replacement; however, this doesn’t always resolve cognitive issues.

B12 deficiency

One of the symptoms for pernicious anemia is dementia. This rare condition is caused by low levels of vitamin B12 when a person cannot absorb the vitamin from food. Early symptoms of pernicious anemia can include confusion, slowness, irritability and apathy. Injections of B12 vitamin can often remedy the deficiency and get rid of cognitive issues.

Water on the brain

This condition, called hydrocephalus, is caused by an excess of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain. This condition can result from a brain hemorrhage, meningitis or head trauma or can happen without a triggering illness. Treatment, which can bring rapid cognitive improvement, involves using a shunt to drain the excess fluid to other parts of the body.


Brain tumors, whether malignant or benign, can resemble dementia, especially with slow-growing tumors. Brain tumors can interference with the brain’s functioning and also result in personality changes.

Subdural hematomas

These blood clots, which are caused by head traumas, can have symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease when the clots are located between the brain’s surface and the thin membrane that covers the brain. Elderly people can develop these types of hematomas after a minor head injury. Cognitive function can be restored by removing the clot.

Amanda Page
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Amanda Page

Amanda was an editor and graphic designer for HealthCentral.