Unfortunately, because this form of dementia is not that well known, and since many doctors are not familiar with it, it often gets misdiagnosed as Alzhiemer’s or other forms of non-treatable dementia for which there is no widely known cure.
Pseudodementia is a type of dementia which falls into a class called “dementia mimics”. This means that the brain is not functioning well, and the patient is presenting with dementia symptoms, but there is no actual biological damage when the brain is examined through an MRI or CT scan of the brain.
Most commonly, a dementia mimic is caused by sleep deprivation, or by depression – both of these syndromes can cause symptoms which appear as full blown dementia and are often misdiagnosed as such.
Pseudodementia is 100% reversible and curable because there is no permanent damage to the brain.
The key to the cure for this type of dementia lies in identifying pseudodementia properly in the first place.
For a patient with pseudodementia caused by depression, the cure comes from properly diagnosing and successfully treating the patient’s depression. When that happens, the dementia will reverse and all symptoms will go away. The patient will return to normal.
It is estimated that between 2% and 32% of older individuals experiencing dementia actually have pseudodementia. It is hard to put an accurate number on it, because pseudodementia is probably under-diagnosed, as sadly this type of dementia is often mistaken for other types of dementia and incorrectly believed to be un-treatable.
It can be difficult for doctors and other medical professionals to distinguish between depression and dementia in older people.
A thorough clinical interview can help reveal important clues which aid in a proper diagnosis.
For instance, people with depression may often complain of memory problems and appear upset about them, however, they will usually score well on objective neuropsychological tests of memory administered by a doctor. On the other hand, people with other types of dementia often downplay or deny having problems with memory or confusion, but they display impairment on neuropsychological tests.
According to MentalHelp.net:
“Although pseudodementia is reversible, treating it can be as complex as treating “regular dementia,” requiring a flexible approach and multiple treatment modalities (e.g., medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both). Depression has multiple potential causes; therefore, which treatments or combinations of treatments will be effective tend to vary across individuals”.
Treatments (drugs) for depression carry with them the risk of side effects, so its important that the patient by monitored carefully by a doctor for side-effects. The doctor can adjust dosages and medication types to try to minimize side effects.
Depression is frequently treated successfully; however, if the patient has pseudo-dementia, the symptoms of dementia typically do not reverse immediately. Time is needed before the cure is noticeable. Medications and psychotherapy treatment often requires several weeks before a noticeable improvement in symptoms is observed.
In addition, people who have depression and who have gone through Pseudodementia in the past are at risk of relapses (i.e., dementia symptoms return). Therefore it is extremely important that the patient has a qualified mental health professional who will treat and monitor the depression symptoms on an ongoing basis.