8 Treatable Diseases That Mimic Dementia

diseases that mimic dementia

Cognitive issues aren’t always caused by Alzheimer’s or dementia

If your older adult has been experiencing cognitive challenges or acting strangely, it’s natural to think that Alzheimer’s or dementia might be the cause. After all, we hear so much about it in the news.

But it’s important to not jump to the conclusion that it’s a non-treatable condition like dementia because there are many treatable diseases that mimic dementia.

That’s why it’s essential to visit a doctor as soon as you realize there’s a problem. There could be something relatively simple going on that they can treat.

We share 8 common health conditions that can cause scary cognitive changes and explain why they cause these problems.

Knowing about these conditions helps you advocate with the doctor so your older adult can get the proper diagnosis and treatment.




8 common diseases that mimic dementia

1. Thyroid disease
The thyroid makes hormones that keep every system in the body running smoothly.

Thyroid disease usually develops slowly, which is why symptoms might be mistaken for normal aging.

But too little or too much thyroid hormone could cause dementia-like symptoms. A primary care doctor or an endocrinologist can use a simple blood test to measure thyroid levels.

Thyroid problems can usually be treated with medications, but sometimes require surgery.


2. Diabetes
According to the American Diabetes Association, 25% of Americans over age 60 have diabetes.

If your older adult has undiagnosed diabetes, it could be causing their memory problems, confusion, irritability, or lack of concentration.

That happens because the body needs a certain amount of glucose (sugar) to keep blood vessels functioning properly.

Too much or too little glucose damages blood vessels in the brain and causes dementia-like symptoms.

Catching this problem early and getting proper treatment is essential for reversing the symptoms. Ask your older adult’s doctor to test for diabetes.


3. Alcohol abuse
Over time, heavy drinking destroys brain cells in areas that are critical for  memory, thinking, decision-making, and balance.

It could also lead to an unhealthy diet that doesn’t include essential vitamins like B-1 – a severe deficiency in B-1 can cause confusion, memory loss, hostility, and agitation.

Sometimes the effects of long-term alcohol abuse can be reversed. If this might be causing cognitive issues, speak with your older adult’s doctor about treatment options.


4. Vision or hearing problems
When someone can’t see or hear well, their behavior can make it seem like they have dementia.

And if those problems are left untreated, they can become more and more isolated, which could actually cause cognitive impairment.

To prevent this problem, get regular eye exams and regularly ask your older adult’s doctor or an audiologist to screen for hearing issues.


5. Heart or lung conditions
The brain gets oxygen and nutrients that are necessary for proper functioning from the heart and lungs.

When vascular (blood vessel) or lung disease interferes with the delivery of blood or oxygen to the brain, they can cause vascular dementia.

But these conditions can also affect alertness, memory, and executive function.

Getting proper treatment for heart or lung conditions sooner rather than later can help prevent or delay symptoms caused by lack of blood or oxygen to the brain.




6. Liver or kidney disease
Diseases of the kidney or liver can cause toxic metabolic waste to build up in the blood.

This can cause problems with cognitive function. Talk with your older adult’s doctor if you suspect their liver or kidney disease is not being well managed.


7. Tumors
Brain tumors, malignant or benign, can seem like dementia – especially with slow-growing tumors.

They can interfere with the brain’s functioning and also result in personality changes.


8. Cancer
Different types of cancer can affect cognitive function by destroying brain tissue, increasing pressure inside the head, or producing chemicals that affect the brain.


Next Step > Find out about 7 additional health conditions that also cause dementia-like symptoms


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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: DentaBoost


  • Reply February 8, 2021


    Children are to quick label that forgets things or dates or what date it is. But they do the same things we do, like forgetting where they left their auto keys or their glasses. Please give the elderly a break.

    • Reply February 8, 2021


      Everyone forgets things from time to time, but there are differences between normal forgetfulness and cognitive symptoms that may indicate that there could be a more serious health condition that needs attention.

      We’ve got an article that describes the difference between the two situations at Signs of Alzheimer’s or Normal Forgetfulness? https://dailycaring.com/signs-of-alzheimers-vs-normal-forgetfulness/

  • Reply August 8, 2020


    Yes, there are many, but the nost common is UTI which should definitely be at the top of the list. Thanks for the article.

  • Reply June 29, 2020


    Please consider removing the word “treatable” from this article’s title. Treatable means “able to be healed or cured,” and most of the diagnoses listed are most definitely not healable or curable at this time.

    Vascular dementia especially shouldn’t be listed here: it is a form of dementia! And – by the time a patient receives that diagnosis, it is too late to expect that medications to correct heart, lung, and vascular issues, will heal the mental changes taking place. Therefore the “sooner rather than later” text is misleading.

    Another suggestion: replace vascular dementia with sleep apnea, which actually can be treated.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Reply June 29, 2020


      Since there are treatments available to effectively manage and/or reduce symptoms, diabetes and the other conditions mentioned are generally considered “treatable” by medical professionals.

      The important thing is to have a doctor rule out any treatable issues that may be causing dementia-like symptoms rather than assuming that they’re caused by dementia and not seeing a doctor.

      If a treatable condition can be detected earlier rather than later, dementia-like symptoms could be reduced or even eliminated.

      Vascular dementia isn’t one of the treatable conditions listed. It can be the result of untreated heart or lung conditions that interfere with delivery of oxygen to the brain.

      According to Mayo Clinic, sleep apnea symptoms don’t typically resemble symptoms of dementia – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-apnea/symptoms-causes/syc-20377631

      However, a Harvard study did find that older women with sleep apnea are more likely to develop dementia or cognitive issues – https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/sleep-apnea-increases-dementia-risk-in-older-women

      And a study published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health found evidence of a relationship between sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s disease – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6542637/

  • Reply March 1, 2019


    You forgot B12 Deficiency. Which can lead to memory issues that seem like demensia.

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