6 Common Conditions that Can Mimic Dementia

diseases mimic dementia

Dementia is becoming an increasingly common condition amongst America’s older adults. There are many conditions and factors that can mimic symptoms of dementia. Know about these before they happen to you or a loved one.

A Growing Issue Amongst Older Adults

Dementia is an umbrella term for the loss of memory, problem-solving, language, and other mental functions that can impact everyday life. The condition is more common in older adults. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that approximately 5 million American seniors over the age of 65 have dementia, and that number is estimated to rise to 14 million by 2060. 

Though you might associate memory loss with aging, dementia is not a normal part of aging. You might experience a certain level of muscle weakness, artery and vessel stiffness, and some memory changes as you age. Normal memory changes can include having trouble learning new things, forgetting recent events, and losing items, like glasses.

Common Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia symptoms vary based on the cause, but most types of dementia have some overlapping symptoms. Common cognitive symptoms of dementia include:

  • Memory loss 
  • Issues with communication or remembering the correct word to use
  • Issues with difficult tasks
  • Issues with motor functions and coordination
  • Issues with problem solving and critical reasoning
  • Issues with spatial and visual skills
  • Disorientation and confusion

Common psychological symptoms of dementia include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Personality changes
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Hallucinations 

As you can see from this list, dementia symptoms have the potential to mimic several other common conditions. Though memory loss is the most well-known early symptom of dementia, there are other ways that you can identify its onset, and distinguish it from other illnesses that might have similar symptoms. 

Learn more about common conditions that mimic dementia symptoms by reading the list below.

1. Medication Side Effects or Interactions

If you’re experiencing memory loss issues, one of the first things your doctor will do is inspect your medication list. Taking a new medication can cause all sorts of associated symptoms and interactions. However, it’s not just new medications that can affect your memory. You can experience troubling side effects from a medication you’ve taken for years. Over time, your liver and kidneys don’t clear drugs from your body as efficiently. This means that medications can accumulate in your body over time and cause issues.

Medications can cause memory loss that presents similarly to dementia. As an older adult, you’re even more at risk of developing cognitive impairment as a result of medication than when you were younger. Some medications are more likely to cause memory loss than others, including medications for anxiety, sleep, pain, allergies, and urinary incontinence. 

When you take five or more medications, often called “polypharmacy,” you can also impact your cognitive abilities and have trouble with memory and clarity. If you do take five or more medications, you’re not alone. Almost half of seniors engage in polypharmacy due to multiple health issues.

2. Respiratory Infections

Any infection can induce delirium, which is a sudden shift in memory, attention, and alertness that presents similarly to dementia. Infections draw white blood cells to the infection site and prompt a chemical change in the brain. This chemical change can leave you confused and drowsy.

Respiratory infections are difficult to identify in seniors because they often don’t cause a cough or fever. One study revealed that 37% of older COVID-19 patients who checked into the hospital with delirium didn’t have other common COVID-19 symptoms, like shortness of breath, fever, or cough. 

The prevalence of COVID-19, a respiratory virus, makes understanding the distinction between respiratory infection symptoms and dementia symptoms especially important. The difference between delirium and dementia lies in their onset. Delirium comes on quickly, while dementia typically takes a while to develop. If you or a loved one’s cognitive abilities change quickly, it’s more likely delirium than dementia. 

3. Sleep Problems/Disorders

Sleeping well is one of the most important things you can do for your brain health. A good night’s rest provides time for your brain to clear out toxic substances, store memories, and learn. Any number of interruptions can impact your sleep-wake cycle, including insomnia. These interruptions can induce symptoms similar to dementia, like confusion, irritability, and difficulty focusing.

Insomnia can be debilitating. If you have trouble sleeping, try to cut down on naps, alcohol, and caffeine[1]. You can also try to implement a consistent sleep schedule during weekdays and weekends. Try to avoid using sleep medications. As mentioned above, some sleep medications can cause side effects that mimic dementia. 

Sleep apnea can also prevent you from getting rest. The difficult part of diagnosing sleep apnea is that people who have this condition often don’t even realize that they have it. Using a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP) can help relieve symptoms of sleep apnea. 

4. Urinary Tract Infection

Just like other infections, a urinary tract infection (UTI) can cause delirium[2]. These symptoms present so closely to those of dementia that you could get confused between the two. Understanding how a UTI affects your body, especially as you age, can help you determine the cause of cognitive issues. 

Older adults might not always experience the burning urination or fever that could accompany a UTI. Instead, UTIs usually cause a change in seniors’ mental abilities. Since it can be difficult to recognize mental changes in yourself, and UTIs might not always present typical symptoms, try to avoid UTIs whenever possible. You can help prevent UTIs by:

  • Staying hydrated
  • Emptying your bladder after intercourse
  • Avoiding potential irritants

If you believe you have a UTI, make an appointment with your doctor. A urine test will provide a diagnosis and an antibiotic will clear up your infection.

5. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain’s ventricles[3]. A blockage in the brain or spinal cord can restrict cerebrospinal fluid from flowing properly. The ventricles expand and put pressure on the brain as a result of the blockage. NPH can cause cognitive issues. 

NPH symptoms are remarkably similar to dementia symptoms, including:

  • Mood changes
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty responding to questions

In order to receive a NPH diagnosis, you will need to see a neurologist and undergo brain imaging and cerebrospinal fluid tests. NPH is a very treatable condition. A shunt, which is a type of flexible tube, helps to drain fluid from the brain and relieve symptoms of NPH. Left untreated, NPH can cause seizures, bladder control issues, and other cognitive impairments. 

6. Dehydration

Dehydration can also present dementia-like symptoms. Older adults are more prone to dehydration. Your body does not retain water as well as it used to, and your thirst mechanism isn’t as strong. As a senior, you can become dehydrated with little to no warning. Dehydration is especially common in seniors who use laxatives or diuretics, as those medications can exacerbate water loss. 

Other signs of dehydration include:

  • Dizziness 
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Infrequent urination
  • Fatigue 

Advanced dehydration might present as:

·         Over 24 hours of diarrhea

  • Inability to keep down fluids
  • Irritability 
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Black or bloody stool

Intravenous fluids can easily treat dehydration. The cognitive issues associated with dehydration will resolve once you are hydrated again. If you’re hoping to avoid dehydration, there are a few things you can do[4]. Some ways you can prevent dehydration include:

  • Drinking lots of water. Ask your doctor how much water you should drink per day. The recommended amount of water varies based on your body type, activity level, health needs, and where you live.
  • Limiting alcohol. 
  • Limiting drinks with caffeine, including tea, coffee, and soda.
  • Eating foods with high amounts of water, including fruits and vegetables.

Explore an Emergency Response Solution

Make sure to see a doctor as soon as you start to experience cognitive issues of any kind. A trusted loved one can also help you identify whether you need professional medical attention. 

If you’re experiencing symptoms of any of these problems, a medical alert system can help you regain a sense of confidence both in and outside of the house.

If you fall or experience another health-related emergency, you can press the button on your personal alarm button and instantly connect with a 24/7 Command Center. You’ll speak with a highly trained and certified agent who will send emergency responders to you and stay on the line with you until those emergency responders arrive. Knowing that you won’t be alone in a stressful situation can provide a sense of comfort and security. And it’s an affordable solution, with some devices costing less than a dollar a day.

Medical Alarms for Your Health Needs

If you live alone, experience chronic health issues, or worry about the onset of dementia, there are a couple of Alert1 features you can use to mitigate stress. First, you can choose a personal alarm button that has fall detection technology, such as In-Home + Fall Detection, On-the-Go + Fall Detection, or a combination In-Home + On-the-Go + Fall Detection.

You can add a button alert to your monthly budget without stress. Alert1 offers month-by-month payment plans, or money-saving pre-paid plans, which means you retain more flexibility and control without being committed to a long-term contract. As an added bonus, you’ll never pay for multiple button pushes or “false alarms.” These unique payment structures make Alert1 an affordable choice for your emergency response solutions.





[1] Rice-Oxley, Mark. 2011, Jan. 29. How I cope with insomnia. The Guardian. How I cope with insomnia.

[2] Lights, Verneda. 2022, Apr. 15. UTIs in Adults: Everything You Need to Know. Healthline.com. UTIs in Adults: Everything You Need to Know.

[3] Krause, Lydia. 2017, Sept. 29. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. Healthline.com. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus.

[4] Lawler, Moira. 2018, Dec. 5. 12 Science-Backed Ways to Help You Avoid Dehydration. Everyday Health. 12 Science-Backed Ways to Help You Avoid Dehydration.