It Might Not Be Dementia: Hydrocephalus

Posted by Dave Tomar on April 23, 2014

It Might Not Be Dementia: Hydrocephalus

The first signs of memory loss can be quite alarming. With aging, you may begin to notice patterns of forgetfulness, repetition and declining mental clarity in yourself or a loved one. It’s only natural to worry that these are the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of intractable dementia. Any time you misplace your keys or struggle to recall once familiar names, you may be compelled to wonder if you are experiencing normal, everyday forgetfulness or if it’s something far more serious.

Well a recent article in Everyday Health reveals that there is yet another possibility: Adult Hydrocephalus.  Contrary to many other root causes for the memory loss that can come with aging, hydrocephalus is treatable and its effects may even be reversible. This could be encouraging news for seniors living with mounting and unexplained memory decline. According to Everyday Health, there may be as many as 750,000 Americans living with hydrocephalus today.

What Is It?

Hydrocephalus is a condition that can mimic many of the most frightening features of Alzheimer’s or dementia, including memory problems, bladder control issues and noticeable differences in gait.

Contrary to many forms of dementia, however, hydrocephalus can be traced to a readily identifiable root problem. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), this occurs when the spinal fluid protecting the brain doesn’t drain adequately. This may be due to overproduction or failure of the body to properly absorb the nutrient-rich fluid. The result, AANS reports, is the application of pressure to the brain. This pressure is what may be causing you to misplace your keys.

Of course, it’s also possible that you simply misplaced your keys. It happens to the best of us!

Remember to Visit Your Doctor

But you won’t know until you visit your physician. It’s easy to chalk up a few lapses in memory to aging.  However, if the evidence begins to build up, it’s really important that you or your loved one consult a neurologist. If this memory loss is due to hydrocephalus, time is of the essence. The AANS warns that without treatment, the pressure being applied to the brain can result in permanent neurological damage.

In addition to memory-related symptoms, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) advises you to keep a lookout for vomiting, nausea, blurred vision, ‘downward deviation of the eyes,’ balance issues, poor coordination, drowsiness, irritability and changes in personality. Any combination of these symptoms with memory loss and gait disturbance should be treated with seriousness and immediacy. Get to a doctor right away!

Total Recall

If your doctor visit results in a diagnosis of hydrocephalus, the most common treatment is typically efficient and effective. According to Everyday Health, a shunt is surgically implanted into the skull, helping to pass the excess fluid to the body. The procedure can be performed in as little as 30 minutes.

According to the NINDS, the prognosis following treatment varies considerably from one patient to the next.  Factors such as the cause (which is typically unknown) and the advanced stage of the condition can dictate how much mental capacity a patient will recover. Additionally, the NINDS warns that the shunt is an imperfect device which must be monitored through regular visits with your doctor.

However, with early treatment and proper condition management, many patients will make a complete recovery of their mental faculties and will go on to live long, healthy lives filled with cherished memories.


TAGS: dementia or hydrocephalus