On Thursday, March 19, 2015, Grey’s Anatomy aired an episode which highlighted Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH). The episode told the story of a gentleman who had been misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s and left in a confused state of dementia for years under the home care of his wife. It was discovered that he actually had misdiagnosed normal pressure hydrocephalus after undergoing emergency surgery for injuries sustained in a car accident where he had crashed a vehicle into a house, seriously injuring a pregnant woman and her husband. The story unfolds with a tragic resolution for both the injured family and the gentleman with NPH. In essence, the misdiagnosis altered the course of the lives of all the individuals involved.
While the episode was not uplifting, it did raise awareness of NPH by educating the viewer about the condition, how it progresses, and how it is treated. Dr. Amelia Shepherd (played by Caterina Scorsone) briefly describes a shunt and how it functions while consulting with the patient at his bedside. We are grateful to the producers and writers for providing an eloquently simple yet informative explanation of NPH for the millions of viewers that watch the show. Apart from explaining the condition, the show also addressed how NPH is often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease and that patients can live for years with a treatable dementia before receiving the proper diagnosis and treatment that can give them back their lives.
This message comes at a critical time, as the baby boomer population, currently projected at 74.9 million, are in the age window where NPH generally presents itself. Studies have found that 10 – 15% of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, in fact have NPH. The most common symptoms of the condition include gait disturbances, mild dementia, and incontinence. It is the hope of the Hydrocephalus Association that this public spotlight on NPH encourages individuals to learn more about the condition. For those individuals who feel they may have a family member misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, we encourage them to contact the association for more information as well as to speak to their doctor about screening for NPH.