Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease similar to those of unrelated illnesses
Featuring Dr. Vincent Mamone, WellMed at Sebastian, Sebastian, Florida
The CDC reports that Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death for all adults and fifth leading cause for adults 65 and older. According to Dr. Vincent Mamone, a family practice doctor specializing in adult medicine at WellMed’s Sebastian clinic, Sebastian, Florida, those who have family members with Alzheimer’s have a 50% chance of getting the disease themselves.
It’s important, however, not to assume Alzheimer’s is inevitable, says Dr. Mamone. In general, he says, diagnosing a person with Alzheimer’s can be difficult because there are other diagnoses that can cause many of the same symptoms.
Among those ailments that mimic Alzheimer’s symptoms are syphilis, kidney disease, certain depressive disorders, thyroid disease and vitamin deficiencies. Dr. Mamone says that most of these are curable or treatable, and patients or their caregivers who suspect Alzheimer’s disease should have these other illnesses ruled out before getting the necessary imaging to diagnose Alzheimer’s.
Unlike treatments for those conditions, the treatment for Alzheimer’s does not cure it. In most cases, treatment may prevent a fast progression of the disease, but it is not always successful.
Living as healthy a life as possible is the best preventive measure. In other words, don’t smoke, limit alcohol consumption, eat a healthy diet and exercise. “Most importantly,” says Dr. Mamone, “it is key to engage with the community, whether that be family or the neighborhood.” He explains that social interaction can be preventative because it forces conversation and the thinking process that engaging with others requires.
Additionally, the CDC cites one study in which isolation was associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent.
A family history of dementia is just one risk factor for contracting the disease. Others include:
- High blood pressure
Dr. Mamone advises that signs of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Memory loss that affects the ability to complete the activities of daily life, such as getting lost in a familiar place
- Trouble paying bills or handling money in general
- Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them
- Changes in personality or mood
Once a family member or other loved one is diagnosed, it is important to have a conversation about the future. Dr. Mamone says the earlier discussions take place about powers of attorney, advanced directives and wills, the better off the patient and their caregivers will be. When these decisions are delayed, the patient is less likely to understand what is happening and why.
If you suspect a loved one may be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, ask to accompany them to their doctor visit. Tell the physician why you’re concerned and give specific instances that cause you to worry.
If the patient refuses to allow you to accompany them, write a note to their doctor and drop it off in person or send via email prior to their appointment. Be sure to include your name and phone number so the doctor can follow up, if necessary. “Patients can fool you,” says Dr. Mamone. “They may have forgotten or intentionally conceal they’ve recently had three car accidents. A note from a concerned family member or friend can be enlightening and helpful.”
Heron M. Deaths: leading causes for 2010. National vital statistics reports; vol. 62, no 6. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013.
 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.