What Is Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus?

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH) is a life-threatening condition caused by excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain’s ventricles. Excess CSF buildup places excess pressure on the brain, which can cause long-term brain damage as well as cognitive and physical impairments.

NPH frequently goes undiagnosed and untreated. The condition is commonly misdiagnosed as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. For example, of the roughly 5.2 million Americans with dementia, an estimated 5% likely have NPH instead. Keep reading to learn more about NPH risk factors, causes, symptoms, and treatment.

Who’s at Risk For Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH)?

NPH impacts upwards of 1 million Americans—of which about 700,000 are adults. But what about hydrocephalus in the elderly? NPH is most common in adults over age 60. However, the condition does occur in people of all ages, including children.

What Causes Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus?

Doctors currently have no explanation as to why excess CSF builds up in the brain, causing NPH. This condition can be linked to meningitis along with brain bleeds due to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and strokes. However, research on these subjects is too limited to establish direct causation.

3 Common Symptoms of Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

Take a look below at the top three symptoms resulting from NPH:

  1. Limited Mobility

    A person with NPH may struggle to walk normally. In more severe cases, people will shuffle their feet while walking which can cause falls.

  2. Bladder Control Issues

    Many people with NPH develop incontinence, which is the partial or total loss of bladder control. One may feel an uncontrollable and immediate urge to urinate.

  3. Dementia

    NPH is often mistaken for dementia because both conditions produce similar symptoms, like:

    • Difficulty focusing
    • Forgetfulness
    • Decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities
    • Confusion
    • Mood swings

Tips & Insights: Frontotemporal Dementia: Types, Symptoms, Causes

The Stages of Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

NPH will continue to progress over time until it’s diagnosed and treated. Check out the guide below to understand the difference in symptoms between the condition’s early and late stages.

Early Stages of NPH

The early stages of NPH involve cognitive impairment, like memory loss, lack of focus, and confusion. Shunt therapy—which we’ll cover more below—can improve symptoms during this stage. Early intervention offers the best chances of long-term symptom improvement and increased quality of life.

Late Stages of NPH

The late stages of NPH involve both cognitive and physical impairments, like loss of bladder control and trouble walking. Those with late-stage NPH face a higher risk of developing irreversible cognitive and physical deficits. They typically require a more intense treatment approach because more brain damage has occurred.

caregiver holding senior with dementiaNormal Pressure Hydrocephalus Treatment Options

Although NPH has no known cure, treatment options are available to improve symptoms. Brain surgery is the most effective treatment for NPH. A surgeon will implant a permanent shunt to drain CSF buildup from the brain to the abdomen. This process relieves excess pressure on the brain, thus reducing symptoms. While shunt therapy can increase one’s risk of infection and brain bleeds, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Shunt therapy often must be repeated many times throughout a person’s life to achieve lasting results. 

All-Inclusive Memory Care For Adults With Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

If you have a loved one whose NPH has progressed enough to necessitate professional care, Terra Vista is here to help. As Oakbrook Terrace’s leading dementia care community, we provide every resident with 24-hour memory care that’s customized to their unique needs. If you want to learn more about our memory care community, schedule a consultation today.

Schedule a Consultation Today to Learn More