Experts urge caution with condition often mistaken for Alzheimer's

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A condition often wrongly attributed to Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease or simply "the effects of old age" can be treated, expert explained recently at a National Council on Aging panel discussion.

Normal Pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is mistaken for dementia, particularly Alzheimer's disease, about 5% of the time, or in about 375,000 cases.

"The fact that NPH can be effectively treated or even reversed if correctly diagnosed should be a wake up call to the medical community, caregivers and long term care providers to be on the look out for it," said James P. Firman, president and chief executive of the National Conference on Aging joint meeting with the American Society on Aging in San Francisco. "We need to make sure that the symptoms of NPH are recognized as early as possible to avoid sending patients down the wrong path."

NPH occurs when excess cerebrospinal fluid builds up and causes the ventricles in the brain to enlarge, which in turn may stretch the nerve tissue causing symptoms that resemble dementia. Patients typically experience primary symptoms including difficulty walking, mild confusion and urinary urgency or incontinence."

Scans and various other tests can detect NPH, which can be treated with surgical implantation of a shunt.

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