Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a
progressive disease that affects memory and cognitive function. AD is more
common in people over the age of 65, but it can also affect younger adults.
Symptoms such as forgetfulness and confusion are mild during the early stages
of the disease, but they gradually worsen as the disease progresses and damage
to the brain becomes more severe.
If you suspect that a loved
one has AD, encourage them to see a doctor. Early diagnosis is important for improving
cognitive health and slowing the progression of the disease. But even with
treatment, your loved one may experience one or more complications of AD.
Restlessness and agitation
People diagnosed with AD
commonly have periods of agitation and anxiousness. A loved one’s ability to
reason and understand certain situations can also decline as the disease
progresses. If they can’t make sense of a confusing world, they can become
fearful and agitated.
You can do things to help a
loved one feel safe and calm. You can start by providing a safe environment and
removing any stressors that could cause agitation, such as loud noise. Some people
with AD also become agitated when their physically uncomfortable. Their
agitation might increase if they’re unable to speak or express how they feel.
Take steps to make sure their pain, hunger, and thirst levels remain at a
comfortable level. You can also calm agitation by reassuring them that they’re
Bladder and bowel problems
Bladder and bowel problems
are other complications of AD. As the disease progresses, a loved one may no
longer recognize the sensation of needing to use the bathroom. They may also be
unable to respond quickly to urges. This can result from limited mobility or
limited communication skills. A loved one may also become confused and use the
restroom in inappropriate places, but you can help them cope.
If possible, remind your
loved one to use the bathroom and offer help. You can also make it easier for
them to get to the bathroom alone. Make sure they can easily remove clothing
and install night lights to ensure they get to the bathroom safely at night.
If mobility is an issue, your
loved one may appreciate a commode near their bed or undergarments for
Some people with AD also have
depression and don’t know how to cope with a loss of cognitive functions. The symptoms
of depression may include:
- sleeping problems
- changes in mood
- withdrawing from friends and relatives
The symptoms of depression
can be similar to the general symptoms of AD. This can make it difficult
to determine whether your loved one is experiencing depression or just the normal
symptoms of AD. A doctor can refer your loved one to a geriatric psychiatrist
to make this determination.
for depression in people with AD include attending support groups and speaking
with a therapist. Speaking to others with AD can also be helpful. Getting regular exercise and participating in
activities they enjoy can also improve their mental outlook. In some cases, a
doctor may recommend antidepressants.
AD can also affect balance
and coordination. The risk of falling increases as the disease worsens. This
can lead to head trauma and broken bones.
You can reduce your loved
one’s risk of falling by assisting them as they walk and making sure pathways
are clear in their home. Some people with AD don't want to lose their
independence. In this case, you might suggest walking aids to help them maintain
their balance. If a loved one is home alone, get a medical alert device so they
can contact emergency services if they fall and can’t get to a phone.
AD can cause your loved one to
lose control of normal body functions, and they may forget how to chew food and
swallow. If this happens, they have an increased risk of inhaling food and
drinks. This can cause pulmonary aspiration and pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.
You can help someone avoid
this complication by making sure they eat and drink while sitting up with their
head elevated. You can also cut their food into bite-size pieces to make
swallowing easier. The symptoms of pneumonia include:
- a fever
- a cough
- shortness of breath
- excess phlegm
Pneumonia and other
respiratory infections need medical treatment with antibiotics. If you notice
that your loved one coughs after drinking, you should alert their doctor who
may refer them to a speech therapist for further evaluation.
Wandering is another common
complication of AD. People with AD can experience restlessness and
sleeplessness due to disruption in their normal sleep patterns. As a result,
they may wander out of the home believing that they’re running an errand or
going to work. The problem, however, is that a loved one may leave home and
forget their way back. Some people with AD wander from home at night when
everyone is asleep.
Make sure your loved one wears
a medical alert bracelet with:
- their name
- their address
- their phone number
- your contact information
You can also keep loved ones
safe by installing an alarm system, deadbolts, and bells on the door.
Malnutrition and dehydration
It's important that your
loved one eats and drinks enough fluids. However, this can be difficult because
they may refuse to eat or drink as the disease progresses. Also, they may be unable
to consume food and drinks because of difficulty swallowing.
The symptoms of dehydration
- a dry mouth
- dry skin
Your loved one may be
malnourished if they’re losing weight, they have frequent infections, or they experience
changes in their level of consciousness. Visit during mealtimes and help with
preparing meals to ensure they don't experience dehydration or malnutrition.
Observe your loved one eating and drinking to ensure they consume plenty of
fluids. This includes water and other beverages, such as juice, milk, and tea.
If you’re concerned about dehydration or malnutrition, speak with their doctor.
A cure for AD isn’t available,
but treatment can improve cognitive function. The goal of treatment is to slow
the progression of the disease and help manage agitation, confusion, and other
symptoms. A doctor may suggest lifestyle changes, such as exercising, getting a
pet, or listening to calming music, as well as prescribe medication to slow the
progression of the disease and improve mental function.
With education, treatment,
and support, both of you can cope with an AD diagnosis.