Jimmy: Lost Memories Found

At age 70, retired auto parts salesman Jimmy feels like a new man with a "second chance at life," as his wife Ann continues to marvel at his dramatic turnaround. This comes after suffering for 10 years from symptoms including cloudy or confused thinking, difficulty walking and urinary incontinence. Doctors had diagnosed Jimmy with Parkinson's and then Alzheimer's disease. It turned out it was neither. It was normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH), a little-known neurological condition that affects about 375,000 people in the U.S. and is often misidentified as these other conditions or dementia because the symptoms are so similar.1

"I felt like I was being robbed of my independence," said Jimmy. "I ended up needing a cane to walk, and kept falling down and injuring myself. My memory was shot and I could no longer do my job. I had to give up everything – fishing, yard work, home projects – I didn't know what was really happening to me other than I was just getting old and getting all the conditions associated with aging."

While Jimmy struggled through his symptoms, his family also suffered.

"It was very painful and stressful for me to see my husband deteriorate like this because he always had so much energy," said Ann, 69, Jimmy's wife of more than 50 years. "It was like he had turned into a 2-year-old, and instead of being a wife, I had become more of a mother to him. I looked into assisted living homes and was considering selling the house, because I could no longer take care of him by myself."

Finally in 2008, after 10 long years of incorrect diagnoses and little hope, Jimmy saw a neurologist who diagnosed him with NPH, which a neurosurgeon confirmed with additional testing. Jimmy had never heard of NPH before, but once he discussed the risks and benefits of treatment with his doctor, he opted for shunt surgery with the CODMAN® HAKIM® Programmable Shunt.

In the procedure, a shunt, a thin, tube-like device, is implanted underneath the scalp where it drains excess fluid from the head to the abdomen where it is absorbed safely into the bloodstream. After implantation, the shunt settings may need to be adjusted periodically because removing too much or too little fluid can be problematic. The newer programmable shunt technology allows doctors to painlessly and quickly adjust the settings using a magnetic device held over where the shunt was placed. In the past, changing a shunt setting required further surgery.

"Immediately after surgery I was able to walk down the hospital hallways without my cane or any assistance," said Jimmy, a grandfather of two. "I'm living life again! I'm back driving, fishing, traveling with my wife and volunteering at my local fire department. I'm even remembering the names of our dear friends along with their phone numbers."

1 Hydrocephalus Association

While most experts say that approximately 375,000 people have NPH, estimates have ranged from about 200,000 to 750,000 cases of NPH. Hospital discharge data shows that only about 11,500 cases a year are currently diagnosed and treated with surgical implantation of a shunt. Since NPH is often mistaken for other conditions, most cases of NPH go unreported and many are left untreated. Only a specialist can properly diagnose NPH. Surgery is not for everyone. There are potential risks and complications; recovery may take time.

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