Behind A Dementia Diagnosis May Actually Lie A Treatable Condition.
To his family, and even more importantly to his physician, the elderly man had all the signs of dementia and early Alzheimer’s disease. He shuffled with an unsteady gait, had started to lose his bladder function, and had trouble doing the simplest of cognitive tasks. His attention span and memory were limited, and he could no longer read or hold a conversation.
Fortunately, his children decided to get a second opinion – which, unfortunately, doesn’t usually happen as most family members accept a loved one’s dementia without question when they are told by a physician that nothing else can be done. They found a neurologist who, due to the symptoms presented, decided to test him for a little known brain disorder called normal pressure hydrocephalus (or NPH).
NPH is caused by the enlargement of the ventricles in the brain due to the buildup of cerebrospinal fluid, the liquid that normally circulates in one’s brain and spinal cord.
NPH typically occurs in older adults and often goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. The symptoms usually come on gradually and are similar to those diseases often associated with aging.
Testing typically includes a CT scan or MRI of the brain and a lumbar puncture which results in the removal of cerebrospinal fluid from the patient. A temporary clinical improvement of the patient’s symptoms would offer a positive sign that surgical intervention performed by a neurosurgeon to drain additional fluid might be successful.
The neurosurgeon treats the patient by inserting a shunt into the lateral ventricle on the non-dominant side of the patient’s brain, a procedure that has been available for some time, but is still unknown to many physicians. This drains the excess fluid via a catheter that diverts it to the stomach, where it is reabsorbed. The risk of any brain damage during the procedure is considered very slight.
Within a matter of days, a patient’s shuffling gait is often reversed, and over time the dementia and incontinence that comprise the hallmark symptoms of the disorder often show a marked improvement.
While there’s a lack of data on the success rate of the procedure, what is available suggests that up to 80 percent of patients experience at least some improvement within days after surgery with improvement often continuing up to two years. Typically those patients with symptoms for the shortest duration of time do the best.
And, even though the disorder was first described in the medical literature back in 1965, physician surveys have found that as many as one-third had never heard of it. Almost as dramatically, as in “Cocoon” – a science fiction movie where the elderly are rejuvenated by aliens – it can be a life changing procedure.
For more information, please visit the Alzheimer’s Association website page on NPH.
The team at Hibernian Home Care recognizes just how challenging it can be for family caregivers. Thus we are available as a partner to assist in delivering professional dementia and Alzheimer’s care. To learn more, Contact us anytime by calling 732-481-1148. Read more about the variety of memory specialty senior care services provided by our dedicated caregivers. We are available throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties of New Jersey to meet the unique requirements of each client.