Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Being Misdiagnosed For Curable Ailment

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Millions of people in this country have been diagnosed with devastating and debilitating diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia.

They and their families struggle to cope with those diagnoses.

However, some of those people may be suffering from a completely different condition that can be cured.

Nearly a year ago Dee McFarland, of Houston, Washington County, was quickly becoming an invalid.

Initially, a doctor told him that he had Parkinson’s. His family refused to accept it because something just was not right.

Their persistence paid off and he no longer needs his wheelchair, walker or cane.

Crossing his front yard to pick up the morning paper is not a problem for the 73-year-old McFarland now.

A year ago, his legs weren’t working right, his memory was fading and he was unaware that it was happening to him.

“He didn’t realize the fact that he was shuffling his feet,” Char McFarland said.

A neurologist delivered the diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Dee had an uncle die of Parkinson’s and felt hopeless.

His wife and four children didn’t buy the diagnosis and began pushing for other answers.

“For him to get that bad in such a short time is when we made a decision to get a second opinion,” Lane McFarland said.

They searched the Internet and Lane asked his family doctor who suggested that his dad might have Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus, which is a brain condition easily misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or dementia.

The best part is that NPH is treatable.

Dr. Bennett Blumenkopf, a neurosurgeon at Allegheny General Hospital, performed the procedure that gave Dee his life back.

“The gains can be very, very significant. Both for quality of life and for the family members particularly,” Dr. Blumenkopf said.

Those over 60, who have trouble walking, problems with balance or falling, confusion, forgetfulness or poor bladder control may have NPH.

It’s not exactly clear what causes NPH, but normal cerebrospinal fluid increases faster than it drains.

To prevent that, two small incisions are made. One is in the head, while the other is made in the abdomen. A shunt is inserted allowing the fluid to flow from the brain into the abdomen where it is absorbed.

To regulate the flow, small adjustments are made with a remote magnetic programmer so no additional invasive surgery is necessary.

The procedure takes less than an hour and results of the shunt procedure may vary from patient to patient.

While it appears to be extremely successful in returning motor skills, it’s not always as effective when it comes to restoring cognitive abilities.


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  • Manuela Everly

    this is exactly what happened to my dad, he just had his surgery about 3 weeks ago, and went from being completely paralized, only able to move his head, to walking again and is going home from the hospital after just 3 weeks and only about 1.5 weeks of rehab, amazing, this has been a true blessing to my family, thinking only about 3 months ago that we would have no choice but to put him in a nursing home because he was just to much to look after at home, he needed 24 hr care. We all new if we put him in a nursing home, that his life would most likely end in no time at all. We praise our dear God for giving us wonderful Dr.’s who new there stuff. A bit of his story is, 14 yrs ago at my sisters wedding he fell on the ice and cracked his head really hard, and that was the beginning of NPH, but none of us new, it was many years of a slow process of this destroying him, and honestly, we thought it was just him aging. If you think at all that this could be your family member, PLEASE take the time to have them checked, this saved our fathers life.

  • Tami

    I can’t say the same for my mother. She was originally diagnosed with NPH. She had the shunt put in and she never had any improvement. She died this past April. I guess she really did have Alzheimer’s. Dr. Blumenkopf did my moms surgery too. Nice guy. He did a good job but it didn’t help. I’m glad to hear that this procedure has helped others.

  • Julie Cathy

    Where is Dr. Blumerkopf from? I mean what hospital?

    • char mcfarland

      allegheny general hospital

  • Robert McGowan

    Was this on the Channel 2 news yesterday about 5 or 6;00 PM?. If so, how do contact Dr. Blumenkoph?

  • Julie Cathy

    How can I get an e~mail to him ?

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