NPH can mimic Alzheimer's disease

January 1, 2009 10:26:27 PM PST
Millions of Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease, but a small percentage may have been misdiagnosed. They suffer from a condition with symptoms that are almost identical.

Ed Ferguson never thought he'd see this day.

"I just figured I was destined to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair," said Ed Ferguson.

Now the 74-year-old is walking, talking and remembering again.

"I couldn't go to my kids, see my grandkids, my great-grandkids, and now I can," said Ferguson.

Ed has a disorder called Normal Pressure Hydrocephelus, or NPH. That's when your body produces too much cerebral spinal fluid that doesn't drain out of your brain as it should.

NPH often begins age 55. Hundreds of thousands of people suffer from it, but it's often misdiagnosed, because it both mimics Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

"Patients may just think, well, it's just old age, or problems associated with old age and may not realize it's progressive and debilitating until three or four years later," said Dr. Jeff Chen from Pacific Neurosurgical.

Ed was lucky. His primary physicians noticed some classic NPH symptoms.

"I couldn't move this foot. If I stood up it would be like it was nailed to the floor or standing in some gum," said Ferguson.

He turned to Dr. Chen, a West Coast specialist in the syndrome. A shunt was placed through his skull, draining the fluid from his brain into his abdomen. The next day, Ed was different man.

"Remarkable. I mean, God, I could think again, I could talk reasonably with people. I could move," said Ferguson.

His wife Elva still can't believe it.

"It is absolutely amazing. It really is. It's so different that you can't explain it," said Ed's wife Elva Ferguson. "We'll do some fun things, you know, I don't think we'll be dancing again, but I hope it could happen."

"You just can't believe the change it's made in my life," said Ferguson.

While NPH can mimic diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, experts say three symptoms stand-out -- dementia, incontinence and especially difficulty moving the feet or walking.