Jo Cinter was driving when she heard about the death of one of her favorite comedians, Tim Conway, on the radio. The news story mentioned a rare brain condition he had called normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH). When she got home, she started researching the condition on her computer.
Radio story leads to rare diagnosis
The symptoms reminded her of those that Good Samaritan Society – Pohai Nani resident Abby Watson was experiencing. At the wellness center at Pohai Nani, Jo, an exercise specialist, enjoys spending time with Abby and her husband, Dave, and works one-on-one with Abby twice a week in the exercise room.
I immediately thought of Abby and her struggles. Could this be her condition?” – Jo Cinter, exercise specialist, Good Samaritan Society – Pohai Nani
Months before, Jo had begun noticing changes in Abby when she came in for exercise class. She had been struggling with walking and incontinence for years, but suddenly her mobility and health were deteriorating fast. She was having trouble getting out of a chair and sitting up straight. She tried physical therapy, which helped only a little.
“Sadly, her walking continued to worsen,” says Jo. “She continued to struggle, but eventually she could no longer walk long distances and had to use a wheelchair.”
When Jo told Abby and Dave about what she heard on the radio, they agreed the symptoms seemed to match up. After a visit to a neurologist, an MRI and a spinal tap, the results came back. Abby had normal pressure hydrocephalus, the same condition as Tim Conway.
Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is a brain disorder commonly diagnosed as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. But unlike those conditions, normal pressure hydrocephalus is treatable. It's estimated that 80% of people who have it are not properly diagnosed and treated.
Definition: Normal pressure hydrocephalus is an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, which causes the brain to swell. It’s most common among older adults and can occur from a head trauma, infection, tumor or surgery complications, although it can be developed without these factors present.
Symptoms: Symptoms include mental impairment and memory loss, slower mobility that makes it difficult to walk or sit, and loss of bladder control. If left untreated over time, brain function continues to decline.
Treatment: Surgery to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid can help patients recover. By placing a small tube in the brain, excess fluid is redirected into the abdomen, where it is absorbed by the body. Early diagnosis and treatment improve the chance of near-complete recovery and improved quality of life.
It’s estimated that nearly 700,000 adults have NPH, but fewer than 20% of people receive the right diagnosis.
NPH is treatable through surgery that drains the excess fluid in the brain. Right before Abby’s surgery, “it was nerve-racking for everyone, including me,” says Jo. “But if successful, it could change her life.”
Only three days after surgery, Abby walked back into exercise class. The whole class cheered.
She looked bright and alert and — like always — was smiling.” – Jo Cinter
Dave calls Abby’s improvement a miracle. She can now more easily get out of a chair, walk and sit up. She’s also more alert, and her memory and incontinence have improved.
“She just looks brighter,” says Jo. “And for me, seeing her doing so well, I feel a little brighter too.”
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This story was submitted by Jo Cinter and the Pohai Nani staff