Ralph had hip replacement surgery at the local community hospital. Though he was in good general health and normally had his “wits about him,” he emerged from the surgery confused. He didn’t recognize his wife Betsy and thought he was at home, not at the hospital. Betsy worried that he had developed dementia. But by morning, Ralph was recovering his orientation.
As it turns out, delirium after surgery is common in elderly people and is just one of many conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. Delirium is normally temporary and reverses itself in a short time. But a number of other diseases and causes may convince family members that their loved one is “becoming senile”—even though a treatable condition is actually causing the symptoms.
Because there are so many possible reasons for dementia-like symptoms, it’s important for a physician to perform a thorough medical workup to eliminate other causes before making a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Unfortunately, as we grow older, conditions that cause cognitive impairment become more common—not only Alzheimer’s, but also such diseases as Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease, vascular dementia or multi-infarct dementia from a stroke or series of strokes. Early diagnosis is important so that the appropriate treatment and care can be started.