Why is misdiagnosis common in older adults?

Diagnostics for older adults can get tricky as many different conditions exhibit similar signs and symptoms.

Dementia is quite tricky because there is a range of other health issues that can mimic it. For this reason, doctors have to be especially careful when diagnosing older individuals and not write a medical condition off as dementia without further diagnostics.

Respiratory infections

Sometimes memory issues and problems with orientation are not signs of dementia in an older adult. They are symptoms of a respiratory infection. Older individuals often do not have the typical symptoms of these infections. They instead present with delirium that comes on suddenly.

Urinary tract infection

Urinary tract infections can greatly look like the onset of dementia. They cause confusion and mood issues. They may present like a person’s mind is slipping, but these symptoms are actually an infection that the doctor can clear up easily with medication.


Another illness that can present like dementia is dehydration. The typical signs in younger individuals turn into brain fog and confusion in older adults. This age group is also more prone to dehydration because aging reduces thirst and the water retained in the body.

Doctors can avoid misdiagnosis in older individuals by being aware of those infections and illnesses that can mimic dementia. They also should always look at the big picture. The sudden onset of any symptoms is usually a sign it is not dementia. Through proper testing and taking the time to listen to the patient, a doctor can often avoid a misdiagnosis and further suffering for the individual.

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