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Is It Really Alzheimer's?

NPH is a condition with symptoms that are similar to Alzheimer's and dementia.

ByABC News via logo
November 5, 2008, 6:07 PM

Nov. 6, 2008 — -- When 74-year-old Phil Myers was barely able to walk and his memory seemed to be going quickly, his wife, Shirley Myers, was terrified. She watched as the man she loved and was married to for 54 years slipped away, with thoughts of the two children they'd raised clearly in her mind.

"At first I was scared," Shirley Myers said. "He took care of his family. He was just a family man. That was it. And he did so much for me."

"The doctors kept saying, 'Oh, he's OK. He's OK,' but then things kept getting worse like dragging his feet. And then he started kind of forgetting where he was at," Shirley Myers said.

The first diagnosis doctors gave Phil Myers was devastating; they believed it was a form of Alzheimer's.

"When they told me it was Alzheimer's, I couldn't believe it because he was only 70 years old and it just didn't seem like it was his time yet," Shirley Myers said.

So the two went to see neurologist Mark Luciano from the Cleveland Clinic. He suspected it wasn't Alzheimer's at all, but rather something called normal pressure hydrocephalus, or NPH.

According to "Good Morning America" medical editor Dr. Tim Johnson, NPH can begin at age 55 and no one knows why.

The condition occurs when cerebral spinal fluid accumulates in the brain. The extra fluid pushes the brain against the nerves that affect memory, walking and balance, and bladder control.

"Hydrocephalis just means water inside the brain. It's when water builds up and starts pressing on the brain itself," Luciano said.

"The symptoms come on very gradually and they can be very subtle," he said. "A gait problem, a problem with your bladder control, a problem with your memory, those are all very common symptoms in our elderly population."

Other symptoms include problems with thinking, a slowing down of the thought process. Since the symptoms are so common, the condition is often misdiagnosed.