It’s the devastating diagnosis you never want to hear: Alzheimer’s.
But for scores of patients at an Ohio memory clinic who were given that heartbreaking news, it wasn’t true.
Before learning that, however, many fell into a deep depression. Some made plans about how and when they would commit suicide, and one went through with it — shooting himself in the head in his garage.
As you can imagine, the clinic where all those false diagnoses were made has been hit with dozens of lawsuits. One of the attorneys involved said the clinic director put all those patients through hell simply to make money off of them.
But greed isn’t the only reason why someone can be given a wrong Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
In fact, it happens all the time.
And you may be shocked to find out why.
Betty Wallwork was 83 when she was told she had Alzheimer’s disease. Despite the fact that she was having all the classic symptoms, the diagnosis was still a shock.
The next blow was when her driver’s license was taken away.
But the Canadian woman wasn’t convinced. “I decided to prove there’s nothing wrong with me,” Wallwork said. And she went about doing just that.
Turns out that, like those Ohio patients, she really didn’t have Alzheimer’s after all. What was wrong with Wallwork, however, is a condition that more and more seniors are suffering from these days called “polypharmacy.”
Polypharmacy means being prescribed multiple medications — and it’s something that a geriatric expert at UCLA Medical Center calls “America’s other drug problem.”
It’s also something that can make it seem like you’re a textbook Alzheimer’s case.
Wallwork was taking numerous meds — ones for pain, her eyes, a swollen ankle and a cold, to name a few. And when she researched what the side effects of that mix might be, she was stunned.
It was as if doctors had cooked her up a recipe for Alzheimer’s symptoms.
The scientific adviser for the Alzheimer Society of Canada says that it’s quite likely around 20 percent of those who have signs of dementia really don’t have the condition, but are suffering the effects of taking multiple medications.
And that’s not all.
Because even if you’re not taking a lineup of drugs, certain meds — all on their own — can mess with your mind enough to make it appear you have dementia, or worse.
A study done last year by the Keenan Research Center for Biomedical Science in Toronto discovered that it’s possible close to 11 percent of Alzheimer’s diagnoses are wrong! And considering that the Alzheimer’s Association says there are now over five million Americans who have the disease, the implications of that 11 percent figure are enormous.
Can you imagine the horror of being told you have dementia or Alzheimer’s and not knowing that the “cure” could simply be stopping a drug you’re taking? The fact that more doctors don’t realize what these meds can do is heartbreaking.
And I’m not just talking about some rare medications that can do this. There are well over 100 different drugs — both Rx and OTC — that can trigger dementia symptoms. Some of the most common include:
- Benzodiazepines, also called “benzos,” such as Ativan, Librium, Valium, Xanax, alprazolam, diazepam, temazepam and triazolam,
- Antihistimatines, like Benadryl,
- Drugs to help you sleep, such as Ambien,
- Statins to lower cholesterol, like Lipitor and other drugs for acid-reflux, including Zantac,
- Meds for overactive bladder and incontinence, such as Detrol, and
- Drugs for blood pressure, including Procardia and Vasodilan.
This is why it’s urgent if you or someone you love has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s — or even just showing a few symptoms — to see if any drugs or drug combos, as in the case of Betty Wallwork, could be the real reason.
That “miracle” cure for dementia we’ve all been hoping for may not be a new drug after all, but instead discarding some old ones.
“Ohio clinic falsely told dozens they had Alzheimer’s, lawsuits say” Associated Press, February 8, 2017, The Chicago Tribune, chicagotribune.com