Dementia or a disguise: Managing health as a home caregiver

Posted by Courtney Larned

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Jul 25, 2014 8:00:00 AM


When you are a home caregiver for an elderly or infirm loved one, it’s very scary to notice a change that looks like Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.

But what if those symptoms have another source?

The human body has a limited number of ways to communicate illness. According to the April 2014 AARP Bulletin, more than 100 disorders can trigger dementia-like symptoms.

Here are three common offenders:

  1. Normal pressure hydrocephalus is caused by a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. Don’t think of the “big head” deformity caused by childhood hydrocephalus - the fluid stays inside the skull, increasing pressure on the brain and interfering with functions such as memory, vision, speech, and balance.

    Symptoms to watch for can include a shuffling gait (with feet spread wide for balance), problems with memory, thinking, and concentration, and urinary frequency or incontinence.

    Treatment is usually quite successful when a shunt is inserted into the brain, allowing the excess fluid to drain into the abdominal cavity.

  2. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to issues caused by medication. A doctor might prescribe something while not knowing about a different prescription from someone else. These multiple medicines can interact or counteract one another. In addition, the elderly have a slower metabolic rate, giving the meds more of a chance to build up.

    Mental fuzziness, fatigue, dizziness or loss of balance, and forgetfulness are common indicators of medication reactions or interactions.

    It's important to minimize the use of medications. Keep a list of ALL medicines, vitamins, and herbals that your loved one takes, and be sure all medical providers are aware of it. CareSync can help with this.

    You might also want to investigate the Beers Criteria, a list of drugs that should be used cautiously or not at all by the elderly. It’s published by the American Geriatrics Society.

  3. Urinary tract infections can cause dementia-like symptoms. Elderly folks rarely have classic symptoms of UTI (burning, frequency, pressure). An easily missed but worsening infection can lead to fever, disorientation, agitation, and confusion over days to weeks until it is treated appropriately. Rapid resolution usually occurs with antibiotics, fluids, and rest.

    Your loved one can help prevent UTIs by drinking 1 ½ liters of water per day and trying to empty the bladder as completely as possible when urinating. Change any wet pads frequently to prevent bacterial growth.

    And please give all the antibiotics as prescribed. Just because the patient feels better is no reason to stop the course early. That’s a setup for a repeat infection!

If your loved one begins to exhibit signs of dementia, get it checked out. It could be a different problem in disguise.

The caregiver duties that come with caring for an elderly loved one are complicated. CareSync has many tools to help lighten your load when managing health. Whether you rely on our Health Assistants to schedule appointments and collect and organize medical records, or just want to use the free web, iOS, or Android applications to better manage your loved one's health, CareSync is for you.

Learn more at, or give us a call at 800.587.5227, and learn more about how we're helping caregivers and patients save time, money, and energy.

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