LOS ANGELES (KABC) --Medical officials say a disease that is often mistaken for Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia is a condition that can be reversed by doctors.
Sixty-eight-year-old Joe Mehl is back on his feet. For months, his family watched as he started to decline mentally and physically.
Mary Mehl feared she was losing her husband to dementia. Then came a doctor's diagnosis.
"I had never heard of normal pressure hydrocephalus. It sounded terrifying," Mary said.
NPH mimics dementia or Parkinson's disease with one tell-tale difference.
"The gait in normal pressure hydrocephalus is often described as a magnetic gait, where patients almost seem as if their feet are stuck to the ground." said Nestor Tomycz, a Neurosurgeon.
With NPH, excess fluid accumulates in the brain's ventricles. Doctors have to perform a spinal tap to confirm the condition, then many patients with NPH can be treated by inserting a shunt into the brain.
Tomycz said the process drains the brain water from the brain down into the peritoneum, where the abdomen is located.
Just a few days after Joe's procedure, he began to respond.
"It was stunning. He literally did a complete 180," Mary said.
Joe said he was surprised that he could walk and talk again. His family said it feels like they've gotten a second chance.
"Joe, now, is Joe. He's been given back to us," Mary said.
Doctors say it is very difficult to tell how many people have NPH because the symptoms of the condition are similar to other brain disorders.
So far, researchers have not found effective non-surgical treatments for NPH.