Managing Complications of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease often begins with memory loss. But as the disease grows more severe, it can cause many other mental, emotional, and physical problems. Here are some ways to manage complications that your loved one with Alzheimer’s may face.
Agitation and Aggression
You may see someone with Alzheimer’s act anxious or upset. When they’re feeling this way, they may fidget, shout, throw things, or try to hit other people. To help keep your loved one calm:
- Keep their surroundings quiet. Background noise, such as from a television, can upset people with Alzheimer’s
- Settle into a routine. Changes in their environment and to their daily routine, such as travel or the appearance of guests, can make your loved one agitated
- Check for causes of discomfort. Pain, fatigue, or a need to use the restroom could make them unsettled or trigger an outburst
- Stay calm. Avoid arguing with someone who has Alzheimer’s
Bladder and Bowel Issues
People with Alzheimer’s tend to have trouble controlling their bladder and bowels. That’s especially true when the disease grows more severe. To prevent and manage accidents:
- Take your loved one to the restroom every few hours
- Be aware of signs of needing to go, including fidgeting and clutching clothing
- When you’re away from home, know where the restrooms are
- Encourage them to drink less fluid close to bedtime
Many people with Alzheimer’s become depressed, especially soon after they develop the disease. Antidepressant drugs may help. Your loved one is less likely to become depressed if they:
- Get regular exercise
- Spend more time around other people
- Stay busy with hobbies and activities they enjoy
People with Alzheimer’s are more likely to lose their balance and fall, which can cause serious harm. To help prevent falls and injuries in the home:
- Encourage regular exercise, especially early in the disease, to help your loved one keep their balance and muscle strength
- Remove objects that are easy to trip on, such as loose rugs or extension cords
- Be sure stairways have at least one handrail
- Place non-skid strips in the bathtub and on smooth flooring
- Install night-lights
- Place easy-to-see stickers on large windows and sliding-glass doors to make it obvious that something solid is there
Many people with Alzheimer’s disease die of other problems, including bladder infections, flu, and pneumonia. You can help prevent infections and get prompt treatment for complications by taking these steps for your loved one:
- Talk to their doctor about getting a flu shot for them each year
- A one-time pneumonia shot after age 65 is also a good idea
- Cranberry juice or capsules may help protect against urinary tract infections
- Watch for sudden changes in symptoms or behaviors, or a fever. These can point to an infection
People with Alzheimer’s may feel sleepy during the day but have trouble sleeping through the night. Here’s how you can help improve your loved one’s ability to rest:
- Stick to a schedule. Keep them on a regular schedule for bedtime, waking up, and meals
- No naps. Discourage napping during the day. Save sleeping for nighttime
- Get outside. Spend time outdoors, especially in bright sunlight early in the day. This can promote better sleep at night
- Avoid “sleep wreckers.” Urge your loved one to stop using caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco
- Check medications. Ask their doctor or pharmacist if any of their medicines could affect sleep
Someone with Alzheimer’s may feel a strong need to go elsewhere. However, if your loved one leaves home alone, they could be in danger. To prevent wandering:
- Make doors difficult to open. You may need to place locks higher on doors
- Put alarms on doors so they sound an alert when they’re opened
- Keep car keys hidden
In case your loved one does wander away, be sure they wear an ID bracelet to make it easier for them to get help finding their way home.
WebMD Medical Reference
National Institute on Aging: “About Alzheimer’s disease: Symptoms,” “Caregiver Guide: Tips for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease,” “Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Ballard, C. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, May 2013.
Alzheimer’s Association: “Anxiety and agitation,” “Treatments for sleep changes.”
UpToDate: “Patient information: Tips for caregivers of people with Alzheimer disease (The Basics),” “Patient information: Dementia (including Alzheimer disease) (Beyond the Basics).”
Beveridge, L.A. Clinical Interventions in Aging, June 21, 2011.
Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center: “Home safety for people with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on June 26, 2013
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