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Ted’s Memory Mystery

August 20, 2012 (Updated: August 4, 2021)
Lily Moran

I first met Ted when his daughter, Helen, brought him to see me. Helen was concerned about her father’s ability to care for himself. At age 84, Ted was a widower who lived alone in a condominium complex. Neighbors had called Helen several times to tell her that her father was behaving strangely and seemed to be having problems walking.

Ted was using a walker, but even that was difficult for him. I noticed that when he came into the office, he seemed wobbly and appeared to have trouble remaining upright. He insisted, however, that everything was fine and we shouldn’t worry about him.

After Helen left the room, I continued to examine Ted, who seemed relieved his daughter was gone. “I don’t want her to know,” he confided in me, “because she’ll just worry, and there’s really nothing wrong. It’s just that sometimes I have trouble with a few things.”

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I encouraged Ted to tell me more about these “troubles.” It turned out he was having problems with his vision, especially when it came to focusing, as well as with walking. “I shuffle — you know, it feels like my feet are glued to the ground, and all I can manage to do is slide one forward at a time.” He was also having problems finding the right word for everyday objects. As a result, he took great pains to avoid people and conversations, giving neighbors the impression that he was behaving strangely.

Ted’s blood work showed no irregularities. Helen asked about Alzheimer’s, but I wasn’t ready to make that call just yet. So I referred Ted to a neurologist. Several tests later, he was diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH), a condition that causes Alzheimer’s-like symptoms but is actually caused by excessive cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. The neurologist was able to eliminate the fluid by placing a thin tube known as a shunt in Ted’s brain, allowing the fluid to drain. While this method does not cure NPH, it does minimize the symptoms. In Ted’s case, he was able to continue living on his own after recuperating from surgery. The last time I saw him was at a little get-together celebrating his 90th birthday. Now I’m looking forward to seeing him again at 91.

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