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With headlines trumpeting the rising rates of Alzheimer’s disease diagnoses — the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that the number of people living with the disease will grow from 5 million today to 16 million by 2050 — it’s easy to get that distressing feeling that a misplaced coffee cup or forgotten dry cleaning might mean that you (or a loved one) are sliding inevitably toward an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
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But you should know that while the disease is the most common cause of dementia, or cognitive impairment, late in life, it’s not the only one.
Especially if you’re younger than 70 and having cognitive complaints, says Marc Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist in Miami and author of the 2015 book The Dementia Caregiver, “dementia is often not Alzheimer’s but reflective of depression or substance abuse or medication effects.”
If your symptoms concern you, Agronin suggests seeing a specialist for “a good solid medical workup, including a brain scan — preferably an MRI — to ensure that there aren’t any medical factors that are either causing the neurocognitive disorder or worsening it.”
He adds that there are a lot of misconceptions about dementia’s causes. Diabetes, for instance, is a big risk factor for dementia — both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia — but it does not directly cause dementia symptoms.
Here are eight of the most common reasons — after Alzheimer’s — for dementia, with information on what you can do about them.
1. Could it be normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH)?
Milton Newman had a thriving dental practice in Peekskill, N.Y., but over a period of about 15 years, his memory became fuzzy and he lost his ability to do simple things around the house. Everyone assumed he was experiencing the beginning symptoms of Alzheimer’s — until he was diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus. His symptoms were caused by a gradual buildup of spinal fluid in the brain, which results in swelling and pressure that over time can damage brain tissue.