Reversible Dementias

(NIA) Many conditions that cause dementia can be reversed with the appropriate treatment.

  • Cerebral vasculitis, an inflammation and necrosis (tissue death) of blood vessel walls, can cause a form of dementia that may resolve when the person is treated with immune suppressants.
  • Some studies have shown that people with depression are at increased risk of developing dementia. Severe depression can cause dementia and can be treated.
  • Infections can cause confusion or delirium due to related fever or other side effects associated with the body’s response to a foreign entity.
  • Metabolic disorders of the nervous system, such as mitochondrial disorders, leukodystrophies, and lysosomal storage diseases, can lead to dementia.
  • Metabolic problems and endocrine abnormalities such as thyroid problems, low blood sugar levels (called hypoglycemia), and low or high levels of sodium or calcium also may also cause dementia.
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus is an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. Elderly individuals with the condition usually have trouble with walking and bladder control before onset of dementia. Normal pressure hydrocephalus can be treated or even reversed by implanting a shunt system to divert fluid from the brain.
  • Nutritional deficiencies of vitamin B1 (thiamine), caused by chronic alcoholism, and vitamin B12 deficiencies can be reversed with treatment.
  • Paraneoplastic syndromes (a group of symptoms that may develop when substances released by some cancer cells disrupt the normal function of surrounding cells and tissue) can cause symptoms that resemble dementia. Such symptoms generally occur in people with cancer when the body’s immune response to the cancer also ends up targeting proteins in the central nervous system. In many cases, the neurologic condition occurs before the cancer is detected. Circulating antibodies against brain proteins are common in both neurologic and cancer conditions.
  • Side effects of medications or drug combinations may cause dementias that arise quickly or develop slowly over time.

National Institute on Aging