Most people know about the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s, as it causes memory loss, confusion, and a loss of motor skills, among other symptoms. Doctors continue their attempts to understand Alzheimer’s, hoping to one day find the cure to this terrible disease.
What most people don’t know, however, is that there is a form of dementia that mimics the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but can be controlled or even reversed with the right treatment. Idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus, or iNPH, affects nearly one million people in the United States. Men and women usually are affected by iNPH when they are about 70 years old and only 20 percent of them get treatment.
Common symptoms of dementia include lack of bladder control and disturbances to an individual’s gait. For years these symptoms were believed to have nothing to do with the fluid in the brain. However, doctors now know that the fluid build up in the brain can cause pressure that may result in these symptoms.
A CT or MRI scan may reveal where the fluid build up is occurring in a patient’s brain. The fluid is known as cerebrospinal fluid and it’s a normal part of what anyone’s brain since it helps the body maintain the cerebral blood flow. However, someone who suffers from iNPH will have this flow interrupted.
To remedy this, doctors scan a patient’s brain to learn where fluid is building up and not maintaining its regular flow. If ventricles in the brain are enlarged, then doctors may consider surgery to alleviate the pressure here. First, a spinal tap is performed on a patient to determine if they’ll respond to shunt surgery.
If the patient can handle shunt surgery, then doctors will place a shunt at the base of the brain or spine to relieve the build up of cerebrospinal fluid. The shunt redirects the fluid to another part of the body such as the bladder, where it can be excreted normally. The surgery has a success rate between 60 and 80 percent, thus giving hope to those who may be suffering from what they believe is Alzheimer’s.