Experts believe there may be as many as 750,000 patients in the U.S. affected by adult hydrocephalus, a syndrome that mimics dementia, but can be cured by a basic procedure.
Source from Everyday Health
Not all memory loss is permanent. If you have an elderly family member experiencing decreased mobility and dementia, it could be from adult hydrocephalus, an under-diagnosed but treatable condition.
Krista Maiuri of Walla Walla, Wash., recognized symptoms reminiscent of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in her 68-year-old mother Judy Russell. She was having memory problems and her walk was different. Then she fell.
Sometimes, Russell would get a glimpse that her memory was failing. The look on her daughter’s face after Russell repeated a story said it all. “I’ve already told you that, haven’t I?” she would ask.
Russell had adult hydrocephalus, caused by extra spinal fluid in the brain, but was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Spinal fluid is produced in our brains and bathes our skulls with nutrients and cushions our gray matter. It trickles down the spine and is absorbed back into the body in a constant flow. Sometimes, the body produces too much fluid or it doesn’t drain the skull adequately, or fails to absorb the fluid properly. The fluid gradually fills up the brain’s ventricles, pushing the brain against the skull and stretching nerve endings. That increased pressure in the ventricles can cause all kinds of mental problems.
Neurosurgeon Sarah Fouke, MD, of Swedish Medical Center explains that the condition’s symptoms are easy to confuse with normal signs of dementia. “There are symptoms that include some difficulties with gait, some cognitive limitations, memory problems, and some problems with bladder control, urinary incontinence,” Dr. Fouke notes.
“As a family member you know something is different and you really can’t quite put your finger on it, but with mom it was the different things all at the same time,” Maiuri says. “It was the memory, the difficulty walking, and then the urine control.”
But when an MRI showed extra fluid in Russel’s brain, her surgeon implanted a shunt, a surgical procedure that takes about half an hour. The problem was fixed.
“We’re putting a catheter or tube through a small hole in the skull and passing that tube into the ventricle that holds the spinal fluid. And then that tube is attached to a valve that helps control the amount of fluid that is drained,” Dr. Fouke says. “The extra fluid that isn’t getting absorbed properly is drained into the abdomen where it gets re-absorbed.”
Post surgery, physical therapy helps with balance and walking, but improvements to memory and bladder control can be less predictable.
“I think overall, I am much, much better,” Russell says.