Is Dementia Reversible?

You have probably heard, and it is true, that there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. What you might not know is that one out of five cases of dementia are caused by illnesses or conditions that are treatable.

It’s true: Some illnesses cause mental confusion and forgetfulness that medical experts say can sometimes be reversed.

First, What Is Dementia?

Dementia is a broad medical term to describe negative cognitive changes that impact a person’s ability to independently perform activities of daily living (ADLs) and independent activities of daily living (IADLs). A person with dementia may experience memory loss, a change in attention span, and increased disorientation or confusion.

Dementia is not a disease, per se, but rather the symptoms caused by the various underlying illnesses or injuries. According to WebMD, close to 50% of Americans in their 80s have some form of dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, typically onsets later in life. But early-onset Alzheimer’s can also impact those under 65.

Is Dementia Curable?

In four out of five cases, dementia is not reversible.

The irreversible forms of dementia

The following forms of dementia are not yet curable. Contact us online today to get care for someone who is living with these forms of dementia:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lewy body dementia (the second-most common form)
  • Vascular dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease-related dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia (also called Pick’s disease, it is rare)

The types of reversible dementia

In twenty percent of cases, the underlying conditions or circumstances causing the dementia symptoms can be treated and reversed.

Medical professionals agree that if someone suddenly experiences memory lapses, no matter the suspected cause, they should consult their healthcare provider to learn if it’s something that can be reversed.

According to the Alzheimer Society Canada, the following are common causes of reversible dementia:

Head Injuries

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) “may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia years after the injury takes place.” Anyone who experiences a head injury, even without a loss of consciousness, should see a medical professional. And if the head injury is severe, such as being ejected from a vehicle and loss of consciousness, someone should call emergency services immediately, experts say. Treatment for head injuries will vary depending on the type of injury, the severity of the injury, the age of the person, and other factors.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

The Alzheimer’s Society notes that alcohol abuse can lead to Korsakoff syndrome, a memory disorder that affects brain function due to low thiamine levels. Korsakoff syndrome may also occur in those with poor nutrition, AIDS, certain cancers, and other conditions. There is no test for Korsakoff syndrome, but a doctor can make a diagnosis based on symptoms and a check-up. Abstaining from alcohol has the potential to reverse Korsakoff syndrome.

Medication Side Effects

Kaiser Health News lists several medications that can cause dementia symptoms, highlighting anticholinergics. This class of drugs includes certain medicines prescribed for depression, asthma, incontinence, and urinary tract infections. Side effects from these medications may include delirium, disorientation, confusion, agitation, and more. Common over-the-counter medicines such as sleep aids and those containing antihistamines may also be anticholinergics.

Research is ongoing as to whether cessation of taking these drugs can cease or reverse dementia symptoms, or if taking them causes irreversible damage to the brain over time.


The question here is if depression is being mistaken for dementia. The Mayo Clinic lists similar symptoms between Alzheimer’s disease and depression as:

  • Loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Memory changes.
  • Loss of concentration.
  • Sleep deregulation.

The key to a proper diagnosis is going to rely on the ability of the individual and their caregivers or family to accurately describe the symptoms and behaviors to a doctor. Treatment options suggested by the Mayo Clinic include exercise, support groups, increased social engagement, and antidepressants.

Muddying the waters, those with Alzheimer’s disease may also experience depression.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

A deficiency in vitamin B12 can mimic symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, according to many experts. Studies are being done to see if Alzheimer’s disease itself leads to a lower level of B12 or if restoring B12 levels can improve cognitive function. Overlapping symptoms can include agitation and memory loss, and low B12 can also show up as fatigue, weight loss, depression, and more. Low B12 can be caused by other illnesses such as Celiac disease, anemia, or Crohn’s disease. Additionally, as people age, their ability to absorb this nutrient changes.

Thyroid Issues

Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can cause symptoms that are like those of someone who is living with a form of dementia. Brain fog, forgetfulness, and difficulty with concentrating can all be signs of a thyroid disorder, but can also look like Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. There are treatments for thyroid disorders and a doctor will need to make a proper diagnosis to determine which medication is needed to stabilize those symptoms.

Heart problems

Much like head trauma, cardiac illnesses such as heart disease can initially show symptoms like dementia, but they need to be caught earlier to prevent irreversible damage to the brain. If there is an interruption in oxygen getting to the brain from the heart and lungs, a person’s executive function skills, memory, and overall alertness may be impacted. A doctor can perform tests to determine if there is a blockage causing these symptoms and then prescribe the necessary treatment.

Bradycardia, a slower-than-normal heart rate, can also cause mild dementia symptoms that can be reversible with a pacemaker or other corrective treatment.

To learn more, check out our infographic. Trust Homewatch CareGivers for Dementia Home Care Services

When you or a loved one need help managing dementia symptoms at home, your local Homewatch CareGivers will be there. Compassionate caregivers are trained to assist people who are living with dementia with activities of daily living, medication reminders, transportation to appointments and errands, companionship, and more. Schedule your complimentary consultation by calling 888-404-5191 or completing our online form.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is reversible dementia?

Reversible dementia describes a range of curable or reversible conditions that cause dementia-like symptoms. It’s estimated that about 20% of dementia cases are reversible.

Can you tell me how to reverse dementia?

Reversible dementia treatment depends on the specific cause.

Is vascular dementia curable?

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for vascular dementia.

Can Alzheimer’s be reversed?

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Does hearing loss cause dementia?

A study conducted at Johns Hopkins University found that mild hearing loss doubles a person’s risk of developing dementia. The study found that hearing loss appears to hasten brain atrophy associated with dementia. Another study is underway to determine whether using hearing aids can prevent or reverse this process. We eagerly await the results of this study to learn whether this type of dementia is reversible.

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