PITTSBURGH. (KFSN) --Normal pressure hydrocephalus or NPH is a condition that many of us have never heard of, but it can cause a person to lose the ability to walk and talk normally.
And because the symptoms are similar to dementia or Parkinson's, it's a condition that can be easily overlooked. But unlike dementia, if doctors diagnose NPH, they can often reverse it.
Sixty-eight year old Joe Mehl is back on his feet. For months, his family watched as he started to decline mentally and physically.
"I started to shuffle," Joe told Ivanhoe.
Mary Mehl feared she was losing her husband to dementia. Then came a doctor's diagnosis.
"I had never heard of normal pressure hydrocephalus. It sounded terrifying," said Mary.
NPH mimics dementia or Parkinson's with one tell-tale difference.
Dr. Nestor D. Tomycz, a neurosurgeon at Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh explained, "The gait in normal pressure hydrocephalus is often described as a magnetic gate, where patients almost seem as if their feet are stuck to the ground."
With NPH, excess fluid accumulates in the brain's ventricles. Doctors have to perform a spinal tap to confirm the condition. Then many patients with NPH can be treated by inserting a shunt into the brain.
"That basically drains the brain water from the brain down into the peritoneum," Dr. Tomycz told Ivanhoe.
Just a few days after Joe's procedure, he began to respond.
"It was stunning," said Mary. "He literally did a 360."
Joe told Ivanhoe, "I was able to talk. I was able to speak. I was able to walk."
Joe's family feels like they've gotten a second chance.
Mary explained, "Joe is now Joe. He's been given back to us."
Doctors say it is very difficult to tell how many people have NPH, because the symptoms of this condition are similar to other brain disorders. So far, researchers have not found effective non-surgical treatments for it.