On Sunday, August 23, 2015, The Miami Herald featured an article on Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH) titled, “’Water on the brain’ could be misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s.” In the article, reporter Jenny Luna follows Gloria Pallot, an 87 year old woman who experienced very gradual decline in cognition and ambulation, or walking. Her devoted husband, Ronald, prepared for the worst, readying their home for his wife who appeared to be suffering from progressive dementia. The story, of course, has a great outcome. Gloria was properly diagnosed with NPH and, after receiving a shunt to drain fluid from her brain, returned to her regular activities…and self.
In addition to telling the story of Gloria and Ronald, what the piece also does is asks each of us to challenge our ideas on the typical signs or characteristics of aging. Luna interviews Dr. Allen Krantrowitz, chief of neurosurgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, who advises families to not let traditionally held beliefs about aging interfere with asking why a loved one might be experiencing symptoms of early onset dementia.
NPH is a condition characterized by an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain that, when left untreated, puts pressure on the brain causing a triad of symptoms characteristic of the condition. These symptoms are gradual gait disturbances where patients describe feeling as if their feet are magnetized to the floor, urinary incontinence, and cognitive impairment. It is currently estimated that approximately 700,000 seniors in the U.S. have NPH, and many may not be diagnosed. In fact, NPH is commonly misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease and estimates suggest that 1 in 10 seniors diagnosed with a dementia, in fact have NPH. Why is this important? For most patients, NPH can be treated, and many patients experience a reversal in their symptoms.
As we enter Hydrocephalus Awareness Month next week, the Hydrocephalus Association encourages everyone to learn the symptoms of NPH and, as Luna points out in her article, question early the changes you see in a loved one to determine whether the symptoms they are experiencing could be part of a treatable condition.
We would like to thank Jenny Luna and The Miami Herald for helping elevate awareness of Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. We would also like to thank Joanne Woodard, a dedicated volunteer in our South Florida community, who provided Jenny with information about living with hydrocephalus and about our vibrant South Florida Community Network and South Florida WALK.