Diagnosing Alzheimer's isn't easy. A common Alzheimer's misdiagnosis is NPH (Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus), a curable dementia. Nearly 400,000 Americans have NPH, but only about 11,000 have been properly diagnosed and treated. See how NPH imitates Alzheimer's as much as 5% of the time. Find out what you can do about it.
TRANSCRIPT: New York - What if someone you know was diagnosed with Alzheimer's but instead has a condition that can actually be cured? There's a common illness that can imitate Alzheimer's. CBS 2's Dr. Holly Phillips explains.
Barbara Adus: "I started to have balance problems. I would fall constantly."
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Barbara: "I didn't want to leave the house. I was very depressed. I stopped driving, I stopped really socializing. I really thought my life was coming to an end."
Out of nowhere, she developed difficulty walking, memory problems and incontinence.
Husband, Gerald Adus: "I would come home and she would be crying in the corner because she had been falling so much."
Her family feared it was dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Gerald: "Well I was very upset. I didn't know what was going on with her."
Months went by until an MRI proved she had a common and reversible illness called NPH.
Dr. Michael Kaplitt of New York - Presbytarian / Weil Cornell:
"NPH, or Normal-Pressure Hydrocephalus, is a disorder where spinal fluid that is normally made in the brain is not being effectively handled by the brain."
The spinal fluid builds up and puts pressure on the brain, causing the debilitating symptoms.
Experts say 5% of patients with dementia, including Alzheimer's diesease, are actually effected by NPH. And that number is expected to go up as the population ages.
Dr. Kaplitt: "If somebody has been normal and robust and living a fairly active life and all of a sudden they are having much greater problems with walking, and there is no clear explanation for it, it is certainly something that should be high on the list (for concern)."
It could happen to anyone, but treatment is simple.
Dr. Kaplitt: "We put a little tube into the brain and that diverts the fluid into the abdomen, where there's plenty of space and ability for that fluid to be reabsorbed."
Barbara: "I was in the hospital for five days. Gradually, gradually I started to recover. It was amazing."
Husband: "I call her my miracle lady. And she is."
Adus has a word of warning for anyone who experiences what she did.
Barbara: "The key is, don't accept being told that it's part of old age. Don't accept that."
In most cases of NPH, no cause can be found, but the earlier it is diagnosed, the easier it is to cure.
Don't hesitate to ask your doctor about getting an MRI if you notice symptoms suddenly.
Dr. Holly Phillips, CBS 2 News.
And it's worth asking because 90% of patients diagnosed with NPH benefit from treatment.
SOURCE: CBS News