Why do people die from Alzheimer's Disease?

Q: If Alzheimer’s is a disease of the memory, how do people die from it?

A: Alzheimer's disease is a complex disease. The disease is not only a memory disease as it manifests initially with a marked memory failure. Alzheimer's affects higher brain functions and learning.

When the clinical picture of the disease is fully developed the patient cannot remember who they are, what to do, what they have done and what needs to be done. They do not perform the tasks that keep our body alive and functioning. People in the final stages of Alzheimer's can have problems swallowing or eating.

The typical case affects an elderly person in their sixties or seventies or eighties. The lack of self awareness and care, prolonged bedding, feeding failure and incapacity to provide proper nutrients are all factors in the development of other life-threatening diseases.

So typically complications of Alzheimer's are heart attacks, thromboembolisms, strokes, kidney failure, and lung infections due to aspiration of food. Multi-organ failure is usually the cause of death in these patients.

Learn more about the Stages of Alzheimer's


Dr. Maurizio Grimaldi heads the Neuropharmacology and Neuroscience Laboratory at Southern Research Institute. Read his full biography

 Comments 1 to 10 of 46 

My mother is very petite, about 4'9" and has gotten down to 84 lbs. Lost 5 in last 6 weeks. The doctor tells me to give her fatty foods because she needs to gain weight, but she is lactose intolerant and when I give her Ensure she feels like she is going to vomit. I have tried numerous things like mashed potatoes with butter and ham, eggs, but she just doesn't eat more than a few bites. Help, what do I do? I feel like I am fighting a losing battle. Carolyn

Alzhiemers can cause so many different problems. My mom died because her brain no longer could tell her throat to swallow. She basically starved....Dysphasia.

HI CAROLYN, ARE YOU STILL HERE? I HAVE JUST NOW READ YOUR POST THAT YOU POSTED IN JANUARY. MY SISTER 54 YRS, BORN WITH DOWNS AND IS NOW IN LATE STAGE AGING. YOGURT, COTTAGE CHEESE, PUDDING, FRUIT COCKTAIL, APPLE SAUCE, MILK SHAKES, AND POPCYCLES ARE EASY TO EAT. SHE IS STILL EATING GOOD, BUT LOSING WEIGHT BECAUSE SHE SLEEPS ALOT, AND DOESN'T EAT OFTEN ENOUGH. IT IS GOOD THAT SHE SLEEPS BECAUSE WHEN SHE IS AWAKE SHE IS NOT COMFORTABLE. IT IS VERY SAD. EDNA

I reached this site after googling for information. Someone posed the question to me yesterday, "How does a person actually "die" from Alzheimer's disease?" ... My father passed away 3 weeks ago today (1/1/2010) at the age of 82, from end stage Alzheimer's. He had been healthy all of his life until he had a stroke about 5 yrs ago. This did not affect him physically, but it did affect him mentally. Over the next few years he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. He progressed very slowly and remained very active in the yard and house until September 28, 2009. On that day, he wandered on their property behind their home (a couple of acres), fell into a deep hole, and was "missing" for approximately 5 hours. We finally found him with the help of neighbors, EMS, and the police. This traumatic event was the beginning of the end for him. Between that day and December 11, 2009, he only stepped outside twice, for extremely short walks with assistance. My mother (78) and I (51) took care of him at home as his Alzheimer's progressed like lightning through his body, taking full control. In mid-October we brought in Hospice assistance, which was so helpful. Those people are life-savers. They did for Dad, but they also educated us, teaching me many things I could do to help Dad be more comfortable, helping me be a better caregiver. I had a job where I worked from home, however, they were not understanding of my plight in caring for Dad, so I quit my job in order to give all my time to caring for Daddy, feeling in my heart that he would not be with us long. Alzheimer's is the most cruel disease and it affects everyone. I watched it rapidly overtake my father's body and mind in the last months of his life. Alzheimer's is not just a "memory" disease - it just often begins that way. Although I "lived" the answer of "how one dies from Alzheimer's," I was struggling for the words to verbalize that to others. I am trying now to be able to do that. People need to be more aware and informed about Alzheimer's and I intend to do whatever I can to help in that regard so that my father will not have suffered and died in vain. ... I was very glad to see this site. ... Peace to all. ... Diane S.

I am the full time caregiver for my mother who has alzheimer's or dementia. She has developed a terrible fear of using the toilet and very very rarely is incontinent. Just curious if anyone else has experienced this and how didi you convince them to use the toilet?

My Mother has Alzheimer's this morning she woke up, but was not her usual self. She was not responcive for a short while has any one seen this before.

my mum has been diagnosed with alzheimers and vascular dementia the worse thing for my mum is the constant halusinations some nice and calming others are not so nice and scare her , she needs constant reassurance about her safety its a daily struggle for her , this is the most horrific illness i have known and unfortunatly things will not get any easier for her , god bless you mum xxxxx

david hear, my dad has goten alzhimers and is only 63... he got it in his 50s my dad has lost alot of wight lately(went from 150-130), and i think he has a infection because he cant get up and is starting to sleep alot more. anyone have any advice for me? he is beyond repair, any advice on basic things that could at least make him feel better would be helpfull.(i think he will die soon a week or 2 at most)

My husband 64 stage 6 ALzheimer's is experiencing the same problem with the toilet however he is incontinent. It seems when I can get him on the toilet the brain won't tell him he needs to urinate. Most BMs are in the toilet. I'm concerned about infections although I do keep him dry and ensure of the amount of fluids he is taking in. I'm also looking for ideas. Taking him every two hours to the toilet is not working....

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain where brain cells continue to die over time. There is no cure to stop the progression and eventually the body will shut down. People usually die of secondary infection, such as pneumonia. From http://www.alzheimer.ca/english/disease/faqs.htm#4

 Comments 1 to 10 of 46 
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