When ‘Alzheimer’s’ disease is totally curable

Dear Reader,

Being misdiagnosed happens all the time.

You could be told that you have a cold when it’s really just a sinus infection… or maybe you’re told you have asthma when all you’ve got is a seasonal allergy.

But the most devastating and heartbreaking medical mistake of all would have to be for someone to think they have a debilitating, fatal disease when, in fact, they really don’t.

And to make it even more shocking, suppose what’s masquerading as this terminal condition is curable?

It almost sounds like a horror story, and it’s one that potentially 700,000 Americans, mostly all seniors, face.

This devious disorder is called idiopathic normal-pressure hydrocephalus, or iNPH. And it’s vital that you know the symptoms.

Because successfully treating it means acting quickly, before it’s too late.

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A shunt in time
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“We have had individuals who were placed in nursing homes with the mistaken impression that they had Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.”

Dr. Norman Relkin, an associate professor of clinical neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, is talking about iNPH, a condition he knows a lot about.

And one of his success stories is the case of Neil Warner.

At the age of 85, Neil, a professional musician, started having problems playing the piano, and then he began to struggle with his balance and memory – all easily interpreted as symptoms of dementia.

But Neil was one of the lucky ones… sort of.

He was diagnosed with iNPH early enough, but the specialist he consulted with said there was nothing that could be done. “Come back in a couple of years when he’s falling down and drooling,” wife Naomi recalls the doctor telling her.

Fortunately, she didn’t give up, eventually finding Dr. Relkin, who was able to completely reverse Neil’s symptoms. As Naomi recalled, it was as if “we had poured water on a drooping plant.”

Caused by an excess of fluid that collects in the brain’s ventricles (fluid-filled, connected cavities in the center of the brain), iNPH is truly a double-edged sword.

First, many iNPH patients are misdiagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s – and plenty of them are put on heavy-duty drugs to treat conditions that they don’t have.

Then, there are patients who are correctly diagnosed, such as Neil, but not given the proper treatments that can give them back their lives – at least, not in time.

Dr. Relkin says that if iNPH can be identified within the first two years after symptoms start, “There’s a much bigger chance of (patients) having a complete reversal.”

Longer than that, he warns, and there can be “secondary damage to the brain”  — similar to the effects of suffering a stroke.

That’s why you should never accept an Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or dementia diagnosis at face value. Knowing the signs of iNPH – along with finding a doctor who’s versed in its treatment – is of utmost importance.

While those symptoms are similar to those ultimately fatal conditions, iNPH does have some telltale signs, such as:

  • shuffling steps that look as if the patient’s “feet are glued to the ground,” as Dr. Relkin describes them,
  • walking with short steps and one’s legs far apart, and
  • falling down a lot.

Then, of course, there’s short-term memory loss and problems with bladder control.

While the treatment for iNPH isn’t a walk in the park by any means, you can’t put a price on being able to stop and reverse the symptoms.

The disorder is typically diagnosed with a CT or MRI scan, where a doctor looks for a buildup of fluid in the brain. A certain amount of cerebral fluid is necessary to act as a kind of “cleaning agent,” but for unknown reasons, those with iNPH produce more than is necessary.

The treatment for iNPH involves surgery, the placement of a shunt in the head along with a valve that drains excess brain fluid into the abdomen, where it’s naturally absorbed and eventually peed out.

Sometimes, a patient will respond to the surgery immediately, although it typically takes several weeks.

It’s hard to imagine just how many people have been given a death sentence of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s when they could have been successfully treated for iNPH.

So, if a friend or loved one is showing symptoms… or has been diagnosed with one of those neurological diseases… please forward this very important eAlert to them.

Knowing about iNPH and how it can be cured could give them a second chance at life!

To Getting the Right Diagnosis,

Melissa Young