Dementia can be a challenging condition to diagnose. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, “approximately three-quarters of people with dementia have not received a diagnosis, and therefore do not have access to treatment, care and organized support that getting a formal diagnosis can provide.”

One of the reasons for dementia going undiagnosed is that it develops slowly, and the symptoms associated with it are sometimes difficult to spot or are even mistaken as normal aspects of aging. Additionally, many people only link memory loss and confusion with dementia, causing other common symptoms to go unnoticed.

Even if someone is aware of all the signs of dementia and begins to notice them in themselves or a loved one, this does not always mean the onset of dementia. In fact, there are treatable conditions that cause dementia-like symptoms, so it is important to seek the advice of a doctor and receive a proper diagnosis to get the right treatment and care.

Providing memory care throughout Alabama, our Community Senior Life communities know the importance of getting a proper diagnosis. For this reason, we are sharing some treatable health conditions that can cause dementia-like symptoms.

Medication Side Effects & Drug Interactions

AARP states, “older adults are more likely than younger people to develop cognitive impairment as a side effect of a medication, and drug toxicity is the culprit in as many as 12 percent of patients who present with suspected dementia, research shows.”

Whether you take prescription medication or an over-the-counter drug, many possible side effects can cause dementia-like symptoms. Several types of medications can affect a person’s cognition (thinking, memory, and reasoning abilities), but the most common include those for sleep, pain, anxiety, and allergies.

While certain medications can affect cognition on their own, this effect could happen when certain drugs are taken together and interact with one another. This is why it is important to tell your doctor everything you regularly take, including vitamins and supplements.

Furthermore, even a prescription you have been taking for a long time can begin to cause dementia-like symptoms. According to AARP, “the reason why…is that your kidneys and liver become less effective at clearing drugs from your body as you get older, so medication can build up in your system over time and cause problems.”


The American Diabetes Association states, “the percentage of Americans age 65 and older [with diabetes] remains high, at 29.2%, or 15.9 million seniors (diagnosed and undiagnosed).”

When you eat, your body breaks down some of the food into glucose (sugar), increasing your blood sugar levels. As this happens, your pancreas is signaled to release insulin, allowing your cells to use this glucose as energy.

However, when an individual is living with diabetes, their body does not make enough insulin or cannot use it as well as it should, resulting in too much blood sugar remaining in the bloodstream. When this happens, dementia-like symptoms such as memory problems, confusion, irritability, or lack of concentration are possible.

Even though diabetes is not curable, it is manageable, and getting a proper diagnosis and treatment is essential for reversing these symptoms.

Urinary Tract Infection

Developing a urinary tract infection (UTI) becomes more common with age and is usually easily treated with antibiotics. This happens when bacteria build up in the bladder, leading to an infection that inhibits the brain’s ability to send and receive signals.

However, older adults who experience a UTI are less “likely to have typical symptoms like pain during urination, fever, or a frequent urge to go (Daily Caring).” Instead, their symptoms could show up as those very similar to dementia, including:

  • A sudden change in behavior
  • Agitation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Delusions
  • Trouble with memory

However, you can tell the difference between dementia-like symptoms caused by a UTI and those associated with dementia. While symptoms caused by Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia progress slowly, symptoms caused by a UTI are often brought on suddenly.

Thyroid Disease

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of your neck under your skin. It’s part of your endocrine system and controls many of your body’s important functions by producing and releasing (secreting) certain hormones.”

If the thyroid is over or underactive (hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism), this could affect cognitive functioning and lead to dementia-like symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Trouble focusing
  • Increased anxiety or depression
  • Having trouble recalling an event that recently took place

Vitamin B-12 Deficiency

Your body needs vitamin B-12 to make red and white blood cells, nerves, and DNA, but it cannot make this vitamin on its own. Therefore, we need to consume animal products like meat and dairy to supplement our bodies with this nutrient. Unfortunately, our ability to absorb vitamin B-12 decreases as we age since the stomach naturally produces less stomach acid.

This, in turn, can lead to dementia-like symptoms such as decreased cognitive functioning, personality changes, irritability, forgetfulness, confusion, and depression.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is a condition caused by the gradual buildup of spinal fluid in the brain. The Hydrocephalus Association states, “without appropriate diagnostic testing, NPH is often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, stroke, or other neurodegenerative conditions. Sometimes the symptoms are mistakenly attributed to ‘normal aging.’”

When someone is experiencing Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus, spinal fluid builds up in the brain and causes swelling and pressure that can lead to brain tissue damage. A common symptom usually noticed first is a change in or difficulty walking. Individuals with NPH often shuffle their feet or widen their stance for balance. Additional dementia-like symptoms of the condition include cognitive impairments such as problems with thinking and memory or a lack of concentration and impaired bladder control.

Poor Sleep

We all know the benefits of getting a good night’s rest, but it is also good to be aware of the consequences of neglecting quality sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for promoting brain health, especially as we age.

Sleep is how the brain recovers from the day before, resets and refreshes for the day ahead, and even how the brain stores memories and filters out toxic substances. Poor sleep can even cause symptoms similar to those of dementia. AARP states, “if your sleep-wake cycle is disturbed or you have insomnia, you may experience dementia-like symptoms such as trouble focusing, confusion, mental fatigue, and irritability.”

Liver or Kidney Problems

Both the liver and kidneys help the body eliminate wastes and toxins produced inside the body. However, if one of these organs is not functioning properly, this can lead to toxic buildup in the blood and eventually lead to dementia-like symptoms such as problems with cognitive functioning.

The liver and kidneys are vital organs for survival, so if you suspect there could be an issue with your or your loved one’s liver or kidneys, talk to your doctor to get a diagnosis.

If it is Dementia…

If you notice dementia-like symptoms in yourself or someone you love, it’s best to talk to your doctor about all possibilities. If the diagnosis does come back as dementia, getting this diagnosis as early as possible is key to understanding and managing the condition. This way, you can find the necessary care, including exploring memory care options.

Memory Care in Alabama

Many Community Senior Life communities offer compassionate memory care services and work closely with each family and resident to meet their unique needs in a safe and welcoming environment. Our goal is to provide a supportive atmosphere where individuals living with memory impairment can thrive and have meaningful experiences while receiving the care they need.

The memory care services we offer encourage individuals to stay active and engaged by participating in a range of activities throughout the day. These are tailored to each resident’s individual care needs and interests.

The memory care features and amenities we offer include:

  • 24/7 nurse call systems
  • Electronically secured buildings
  • Daily meals and snacks
  • Therapeutic activities
  • Medication management
  • Dressing assistance
  • Personal appearance and hygiene assistance
  • Housekeeping
  • Mobility assistance

If you have noticed any symptoms that could be a sign of dementia in yourself or a loved one, it is important to talk to a doctor. Whatever the diagnosis, catching it early is key for treating the condition.

If the diagnosis does come back as dementia, memory care programs, like the ones offered in our communities throughout Alabama, could help manage the condition and enhance your or your loved one’s quality of life.

At Community Senior Life, we are dedicated to providing unsurpassed dementia care. Our caregivers work closely with every resident to ensure their unique needs are met in a safe and welcoming environment where they can thrive and have meaningful experiences.

We invite you to visit our website or contact a member of our team to learn more about our memory care communities in Alabama.

Updated: May 2023