Medications and Medical Conditions That Mimic Alzheimer’s Dementia

July 31, 2019
Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Award-winning nutritionist and New York Times bestselling author.

Is your ever-increasing forgetfulness a sign of dementia – or could it be something you’re taking, or something you caught?

Liz had been journaling her symptoms for months before she saw her doctor – low motivation, loss of interest in her hobbies, low energy, crying at night, and memory loss. She knew she had depression and needed help. Her doctor put her on Lexapro, a popular antidepressant, and to her delight most of her symptoms went away – except the memory loss. She went back to her doctor, worried that she had underlying dementia, but her worries – and her memory loss – went away when he switched her to a new antidepressant.

Gary started working out, eating healthier, and even did a colon cleanse to get his health back on track. As a pleasant side effect of all of his efforts, he no longer was experiencing anxiety or high blood pressure and wanted to stop taking his benzodiazepine drug, Klonopin. His health care provider instructed him to simply taper off over a few days, which he did, but he noticed within a week that he had insomnia and memory loss for the first time in his life. He sought out a neurologist who assured him these were side effects of tapering off his medication too quickly and gave him a much more prolonged schedule for the taper, which resolved his memory loss.

Songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson had been told for years by his doctors that his increasing, debilitating memory loss was due to Alzheimer’s dementia, possibly brought on by too many blows to the head during sports in his teens. He was put on medications for Alzheimer’s, which all had unpleasant side effects and didn’t seem to be helping. It wasn’t until he saw a new doctor in 2016 that he was tested for Lyme disease – and came back positive. After just 3 weeks of treatment (and stopping his Alzheimer’s medications), his memory was significantly restored and he felt as mentally sharp as he was 20 years prior.

These are 3 very different scenarios that all lead to the same conclusion: reversible memory loss that is NOT Alzheimer’s Dementia. Alzheimer’s is currently one of the fastest growing diseases and is affecting younger age groups more and more. It’s no wonder that it’s our biggest fear when memory loss appears on the scene – watching someone suffer with worsening memory loss and dementia is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s good news that some cases of memory loss are reversible, and all it takes is doing the detective work.

Medications That Are a Drain on Your Brainpower

Have you ever tried to read the side effects and warnings for even the over-the-counter medicines you’ve taken? The FDA requires them when the risks are there, but they are full of big words that take a medical scholar to decipher what they actually mean. It’s quite misleading to call them “side effects” in the first place, because the truth is they are unintended effects that are just as important as the one you’re using the medication for. In any case, there is one class of medicines in particular you need to look out for if memory loss or dementia is of concern to you.

The word is anticholinergic– write it down and ask your pharmacist if any of your medications – including OTC – fall into this category. This class of medications blocks acetylcholine, which is an important neurotransmitter your brain needs for proper functioning. As it is, our levels of acetycholine go down as we age, so to have its effects blocked on top of the deficiency can cause memory loss, confusion, agitation, and even delirium. All of this together looks a lot like dementia.

Other classes of medications that are known to mimic Alzheimer’s dementia include:

  • Anti-Anxiety – includes the benzodiazepines and other sedatives
  • Insomnia – includes the popular Ambien
  • Antidepressants – especially the SSRIs
  • Antihistamines – includes popular OTC meds like Benadryl
  • Overactive Bladder – includes Detrol, among others
  • Seizure – some of these meds are also used for migraines
  • Parkinson’s medications
  • Cardiovascular – includes some blood thinners and some blood pressure medications
  • Chemotherapy
  • Steroids – especially prednisone
  • Narcotic Pain Medications
  • Statins – all in this class of medications; depletes CoQ10 as well which can have cognitive effects

It’s important you taper off these medications properly. Quitting them “cold turkey” or tapering too quickly can cause new or worsening of the same symptoms you are trying to improve. And it isn’t always a case of “getting worse before you get better.” Especially in the case of too rapid benzodiazepine withdrawal, there may be a lasting effect on brain chemistry and some of the symptoms may take years to resolve.

What’s Gotten Into You?

When you’re doing the detective work to try to find the cause of your memory loss, if medications aren’t the answer then look to the ticks, fleas, and other biting insects for your next clue. Only 50 percent of people with Lyme disease ever recall being bitten by a tick or exhibit the telltale rash. In the case of Kris Kristofferson, his only memory of a tick bite was many years earlier while filming in Vermont, and he doesn’t recall having a rash or the flu-like symptoms that can accompany acute infection.

In addition to Lyme, there are co-infections like Bartonella, Babesia, Ehrlichia, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, among others. And the testing isn’t always reliable, especially if it’s been a while since you were infected. These stealth infections can lie dormant for years, subdued by your immune system, until a major stressor suppresses your immunity enough for them to become active and cause symptoms. This means they aren’t always present in the blood stream in sufficient quantity to give you a positive test result, but nevertheless you are still infected.

Parasitic infections can also mimic Alzheimer’s Dementia. Because of the gut-brain connection, anything that affects your gut also affects your brain. The gut makes and uses 90 percent of your body’s neurotransmitters, giving the brain the first 10 percent. When a parasite invades, whether it travels to the brain or not, it can result in confusion and memory loss to such an extent that the wrong diagnosis is made.

What I Do to Preserve My Memory

Born and raised in Connecticut, I am all too familiar with tick-borne diseases. When I hike in the woods, I’m careful to wear light-colored clothing, with my pants tucked into my socks, so ticks are more easily spotted and don’t have any exposed skin to attach to. But I also lived near the epicenter of that Lyme endemic area long enough to know that not everyone exposed to tick-borne diseases necessarily catches them.

I am a firm believer in the adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I filter my water and my indoor air, and make sure my food is as clean and nutrient dense as possible. Detox for me is a daily event, making sure my body is always able and ready to handle whatever environmental assaults inadvertently come my way. I ask a lot of questions before I agree to take any medication, both of my prescriber and my pharmacist. And I use the following nutritional supplements:

  • Para-Key. This supplement from UNI KEY Health is my go-to when I’m traveling or in any environment where I think I may be exposed to illness. I take it twice daily as a preventative, or 2 pills 3 times daily when I feel like I’ve caught something.
  • My Colon Cleansing Kit. This popular UNI KEY Health cleanse features Para-Key as an integral part of the kit, and is a regular ritual in my home multiple times throughout the year. In addition to Para-Key, it also contains Verma-Plus and my favorite probiotic, Flora-Key.
  • TMA. I want to know when my essential minerals are being depleted or when I’m being exposed to heavy metals, so I do Tissue Mineral Analysis (TMA) testing annually and adjust my supplementation according to the results. A non-invasive hair sample can give you so much information on the stressors your body is being exposed to, and how to compensate for them.


For a FREE daily dose of tips and strategies for maintaining healthy weight, conquering insomnia, and much more… check out my Radical Health Tips.



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Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty books including The Fat Flush Plan series and her latest book, Radical Metabolism. She’s been rewriting the rules of nutrition for more than 40 years and is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of diet, detox and women’s health issues. 

For a FREE daily dose of tips and strategies for maintaining healthy weight, conquering insomnia, and much more…check out my Radical Health Tips.

I’d like to meet and greet you on my Facebook groups, so won’t you check us out at the Radical Metabolism RevolutionFat Flush Nation, or my Inner Circle!



    Thank you Ann Louise. I enjoyed your entire email. I appreciate your “style” of writing. I felt you were here talking to me, and I could follow your explanations and examples. I like it when someone gives examples of what they are talking about. I’m so glad I didn’t

    • Brenda Watson

      Thank, You Ann for this delightful information I’m currently going threw menopause and no it’s not post menopause i had a partial hysterectomy with still having my ovaries the worst thing for me about is the weight gain I’m a vegan and i do exercise on a regular basis but I’m petite framed losing 50 to 70 pounds is hard but i enjoy your articles and follow you on instagram maybe some tips will help Thanks Brenda!


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