Another Example of Misdiagnosis of Dementia

A previous healthy memory blog post, “A Treatable Condition Misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s,”  discusses a case as being untreatable Alzheimer’s when the true diagnosis was normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH).  An article in the March 5, 2015 Health and Science of the Washington Post, by Roni Caryn Rabin titled “Mom developed dementia:  after ten years she got better” motivated me to write this post about this often overlooked diagnosis, and because the article points to  problems in the medical system of the United States.  Even though her mother was a retired psychiatrist, and even though her mother’s mother had suffered from the same malady, it took ten years for the correct diagnosis to be made followed by successful surgery that remedied the condition.

Her symptoms were gait problems with resultant falling.  Her gait tripped her up.  It became uneven.  She was unsteady and the slightest incline threw her off stride.  Sometimes she quickened her pace involuntarily, and she sometimes bent over and then straightened back up.

She went to doctor after doctor telling them that she wanted a diagnosis telling them that she is convinced that it is something organic and that it has an underlying organic cause. Remember that this is a physician, a retired psychiatrist, speaking to other physicians.  She went to an orthopedic surgeon who said that she had stenosis, or narrowing of the open spaces of the spine, and recommended surgery.  She underwent a complicated potentially back operation, and seemed to be walking more smoothly afterward.  But this lasted for only a few months.

Her mother’s dementia  had been caused by normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH), which is a buildup of cerebrospinal in that brain that causes difficulty walking, urinary incontinence, and cognitive loss.  Her mother floated the idea that she might ave NPH. She hoped that that would be the case because today it can often be treated by implanting a small shunt into the brain to drain off excess fluid.  Nevertheless, she had difficulty convincing her fellow physicians that her diagnosis was correct.  Eventually the correct diagnosis was made and her condition was remedied by the operation.  In total, it took ten years to correct her condition.

Now if it takes a knowledgeable physician with the correct diagnosis ten years to be successful, what are the chances for us laypeople???

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