Seven Conditions Often Confused with Alzheimer’s Disease

By Ava M. Stinnett

When a loved one starts to exhibit signs of dementia, it can be difficult to know what to do first. Are the signs typical of the normal aging processor, or is it cognitive decline that indicates the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia? Alzheimer’s is not the only condition that affects brain function. How does one get an accurate diagnosis when there are numerous other medical issues that mimic dementia that is treatable and, perhaps, reversible? Let’s take a look at some conditions that can be confused with dementia.

Infection. A number of different types of infection can be confused with Alzheimer’s disease. This includes urinary tract infections, skin infections, and lung infections like pneumonia.

Medications. Many popular medications come with some significant side effects. These medications can affect both mental and physical well-being. For example, antidepressants can make patients appear tired, both mentally and physically.

Dehydration. Dehydration can significantly reduce normal body functionality and can also negatively affect cognitive function. To prevent confusion, experts typically recommend that we drink more water during the hot summer months or when engaging in strenuous exercise to ensure we don’t feel run down and unable to perform at our best.

Stroke. A stroke can result in paralysis, slurred speech, confusion, impaired decision-making, and other problems affecting cognitive functionality. That’s why it’s so easy to confuse a single, powerful stroke or several “mini-strokes” with forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia.

Sleep Apnea.  Few people get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Some struggle to get enough sleep because of sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that’s associated with intermittent breathing problems that prevent the body from entering a deep and restful sleep. The result can be an exhausted individual who appears sluggish, both physically and mentally, which can easily be mistaken
for dementia.

High Blood Pressure. Rapid adjustments to blood pressure can have a dramatic effect on our physical appearance and mental functionality. The problem is often apparent in older adults, particularly those struggling with high blood pressure or heart disease. Oftentimes, this issue may also be related to medications that affect blood pressure.

Brain Tumor. There are few diagnoses more frightening than a brain tumor, which can affect an individual’s behavior. Although popular opinion insists that this condition is often inoperable, many brain tumors can be effectively removed without dramatically affecting the behavior of the patient.

If you recognize these signs in yourself or a loved one, it would be wise to see a physician. Your family doctor may do part of an evaluation and then recommend a doctor who is experienced in Alzheimer’s diagnosis such as a neurologist, geriatrician, or another specialist to complete testing. Early testing can help a physician determine if Alzheimer’s is a likely factor, allowing the individual and family members to plan for the future.


The Alzheimer’s Association. (2017). 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Retrieved from

Mayo Clinic. (2017). Alzheimer’s disease: Diagnosis and treatment. Retrieved from