When It's Not Alzheimer’s: Little-Known Illness Mimics Dementia

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Jim Lampert, right, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, but his wife Terrie, left, found a specialist who diagnosed him with normal pressure hydrocephalus. (Screenshot from Boston Globe video)

The last thing most patients do when they receive an Alzheimer's diagnosis is seek another diagnosis.

But research shows that up to 5 percent of dementia cases are misdiagnosed cases of a treatable but largely unknown condition called "normal pressure hydrocephalus."

It is theorized that NPH arises from excess fluid building up in the brain. The cure is to drain the fluid with shunts.

In one case described in The Boston Globe, a Massachusetts man named Jim Lampert was confined to a nursing home, unable to control his bladder or bowels, read or even carry on a conversation.

Though diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, his wife was skeptical, and finally had her husband re-diagnosed and treated.

Dr. Mark Johnson runs the Adult Hydrocephalus Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and cared for Lampert.

After Johnson surgically inserted a shunt system into his brain to drain the excess fluid, Lampert got his mobility and his life back.

Johnson has treated a number of patients for NPH, but he is still awed by the outcome of the treatment.

"I still feel that way whenever I see this transformation in patients, after the shunt has been placed," Johnson said. "And it's a godsend for the patients and for their caregivers."


  • Dr. Mark Johnson, brain surgeon and head of the Adult Hydrocephalus Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

This segment aired on August 14, 2013.


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