But doctors now say sometimes when people think they have one of these debilitating diseases; their brains are really saying they have something else -- a neurological disease that affects one in every 200 adults over age 65.
"I couldn't walk properly, I couldn't keep my balance." Ramona Luckman, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's, told Ivanhoe. "You start to feel like your feet are attached to the floor, and you can't pick your feet up. I couldn't get my words out."
In 2007, a doctor told 69-year-old Ramona Luckman her symptoms added up to one thing -- Parkinson's.
"That just threw me for a loop, and I started to cry," Ramona said.
But two agonizing years later, CT scans confirmed Ramona didn't have Parkinson's at all. It was NPH -- normal pressure hydrocephalus. NPH is a buildup of cerebral spinal fluid that enlarges the ventricles -- those black spaces you see in the brain.
"They believe that the symptoms are a result of the expansion of these fluid-filled spaces," Joseph Zabramski, M.D., neurological surgeon at Barrow Neurological Institute explained.
Although symptoms of NPH can mimic Parkinson's, dementia or even Alzheimer's, treatment for this neurological disorder is very different. A programmable shunt was placed in Ramona's brain. It drains about a cup of fluid a day through a long tube into her abdomen.
"What happens is when you start to drain the fluid, the patient'ssymptoms dramatically resolve," Dr. Zabramski said.
It worked," Ramona said. "I feel that I've got about 85 to 90 percent of my abilities back."
Now, with a steady hand and an eye for every detail, Ramona is healthy, happy and back in control.
More than 750 thousand Americans may be living with NPH with many of those unaware they are affected. Studies have shown about five percent of dementia is actually caused by NPH -- not Alzheimer's. Although NPH can occur at any age, it's most commonly seen in adults over age 60.
If you would like more information, please contact:
Carmelle Malkovich, Public Relations
Barrow Neurological Institute