Dementia, the dreaded "D-word," has copy cats. As you monitor your aging parent's health, you may encounter one or more of these. They all begin with D, and their symptoms are similar to dementia.
Delerium--This has a rapid onset of hours to days. The person becomes confused and disoriented, with impaired memory and possible hallucinations and mood fluctuations. Delerium is not a disease in itself, but is a syndrome or combination of symptoms. Delerium has a medical cause. In elders, it's often a result of a urinary tract infection, or possibly a reaction to a drug. Once the basic medical problem is treated, the delerium goes away.
Depression--If your parent is experiencing lack of energy or motivation, or confusion or a slowing of thought, he or she may appear to have dementia. But the cognitive loss could be due to depression. Elders often present with different depression symptoms than do younger people. Your parent may not use the word "sad," for example, but he or she still could be depressed. Again, this is treatable.
Damaged Brain--If someone falls--and many older adults do from time to time, they can damage their brain, leading to confusion and slowing of thought. For awhile, they may seem demented. Usually over time, things get better.
Developmental Delay--Elders with developmental disabilities may think slowly, speak slowly and act as though they have dementia, when they may not.
Deficient Education--If an elder only finished sixth grade, he or she may have difficulty processing language. The slowness of thought could be confused with dementia.
All of these D-diagnoses impact cognition. But only one is dementia.
Carilyn Ellis, MA, discussed these in a presentation for Certified Senior Advisors called "Understanding Assessments, Determinators and Diagnoses--and Challenging Doctors When Needed."
When presented with a dementia diagnosis, Ellis advises to ask the doctor, "Is there anything else it could be?"