How Does Adult Onset Hydrocephalus Affect the Elderly?

Adult onset hydrocephalus affects the elderly in several ways, with primary symptoms that include forgetfulness, difficulty walking and bladder control problems, American Association of Neurological Surgeons says. Often, the first obvious symptom is the distinctive gait people with adult onset hydrocephalus have, which features a wide stance and shuffling slow steps. The symptoms of adult onset hydrocephalus occur because the cerebrospinal fluid in the cavities of the brain does not drain properly. This compresses the brain and eventually damages it.

The effects of adult onset hydrocephalus can resemble those of other conditions in the elderly, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, so it is often misdiagnosed, explains American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Other common symptoms include nausea, sudden falls, drowsiness, seizures and headaches. They can also include difficulty focusing the eyes, irritability and personality changes. Doctors diagnose adult onset hydrocephalus through MRI scans, CT scans, isotopic cisternography and intracranial pressure monitoring. A lumbar puncture to remove cerebrospinal fluid can also help diagnose the condition, since any relief of symptoms implies that increased pressure causes them.

Treatment of adult onset hydrocephalus generally requires surgery, American Association of Neurological Surgeons says. Surgeons often install a shunt that directs the excess cerebrospinal fluid into the abdominal cavity to be absorbed. Surgeons also sometimes perform surgery to remove whatever obstructs the normal flow of fluid in the brain.