Not all dementia is Alzheimer’s
While little memory slips are normal, when forgetfulness begins to interfere with everyday life, or symptoms pop up suddenly, it might be time to see a doctor. There are ways to improve your recall. But dementia is shockingly common: It affects more than 47.5 million people worldwide. Dementia is not a disease in itself—it’s a blanket term (like cancer) for a variety of different types of mental impairments. Most dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia (mini strokes), Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is irreversible: treatable, but not curable. But research suggests that as many as one in five cases of dementia are triggered by treatable conditions. “Dementia as a diagnosis is not the same as exhibiting a cognitive impairment that mimics dementia,” explains Kevin James, founder of Dementia.org. “Sometimes certain conditions can cause people to exhibit dementia-like symptoms, and in many cases, these conditions can be treated and the symptoms can be reversed.” Here’s how to tell whether your memory loss will be Alzheimer’s.
The wrong meds
While not getting enough sleep may cause memory problems, taking prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids may cause symptoms that mimic dementia. “There are some medications that can cause confusion and make dementia worse,” says Mollie Scott, PharmD, Regional Associate Dean at the University of North Carolina’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Common medications that do this are medicines with anticholinergic properties—many prescription and over-the-counter medications have these properties, including those that treat incontinence and COPD as well as some antihistamines, sleep medications, and antidepressants, says Scott. One common offender is diphenhydramine, which is found in Benadryl and over-the-counter sleep aids such as ZzzQuil and Unisom. “Older adults often use these without realizing that they can negatively affect memory, cause constipation, and cause urinary retention,” says Scott. “I recently saw a woman in her 70s who was very worried about her memory, but it turns out she couldn’t sleep and was taking 50 mg of diphenhydramine at bedtime. Once she discontinued the medication, her symptoms improved.” Learn how too much sleep can also increase your dementia risk.