If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, juggling their needs with your other responsibilities can be overwhelming. Anticipating and preparing for their needs as the disease progresses will allow you to provide the best possible care – now and in the future.
Those with dementia often struggle with additional complications related to or exacerbated by their diagnosis, including depression, increased risk of infection, falls, and bowel and bladder issues.
Your loved one’s medical team can be a valuable source of information, so be sure they are aware of any concerns you might have. Below, we have shared some of the most common complications associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and offer suggestions on how you help to manage them.
Depression is a common complication for individuals with Alzheimer’s or other memory-related cognitive disorders. The research varies, but it is estimated that anywhere from 30-50% of those with Alzheimer’s disease also suffer from depression. It is important to understand that depression may look different for someone who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Additionally, your loved one may have difficulty expressing how they are feeling due to their cognitive impairment.
According to The Alzheimer’s Association here are some ways depression may present differently in those with Alzheimer’s:
- Symptoms may be less pronounced.
- Duration of symptoms may be shorter and tend to come and go.
Always be sure to discuss any symptoms of depression with your loved one’s medical team.
Insomnia and Other Sleep Disturbances
Sleep disturbances are common for those living with Alzheimer’s, and tend to increase in severity as the disease progresses. These disturbances can range from insomnia to agitation and wandering at bedtime or throughout the night.
The National Institute on Aging recommends the following tips to cope with sleep disturbances:
- Institute a daily exercise routine, regular bedtime, and limited naps
- Plan activities that require more energy toward the beginning of the day
- Reduce caffeine intake
- Place nightlights in the bedroom and bathroom
Dehydration and Malnutrition
Other complications related to Alzheimer’s may include episodes of dehydration and malnutrition. Memory loss and confusion can result in forgetting to eat and/or drink. People with Alzheimer’s disease may also struggle to recognize the food in front of them – especially if it’s presented differently or served in an unfamiliar dish.
Dehydration and malnutrition can be serious and lead to hospitalization. To reduce this risk, the Alzheimer’s Association encourages caregivers to:
- Maintain regular mealtimes
- Provide plenty of time to eat and drink – don’t rush meals
- Remain calm and look for the least stressful solutions, which may be sticking to meals and routines that your loved one is most familiar with
Bowel and Bladder Issues
As your loved one’s condition progresses, they may no longer recognize the urge to relieve themselves. Incontinence is another common complication, and can be the result of becoming confused, forgetting where the bathroom is located, medication side effects, or stress. Limited mobility may keep an individual from reaching the restroom in time to relieve themselves. Ensure your loved one has easily removable clothing, and/or provide incontinence protection, such as adult disposable briefs or protective mattress pad.
To help manage bowel and bladder issues:
- Set a regular schedule for using the bathroom, such as first thing in the morning, immediately after meals, and before bed
- Ensure your loved one has plenty of time in the bathroom to complete their business, but not long enough to get distracted. If they seem to have forgotten why they are there, gently remind them to go to the toilet
Constipation can also be a concern, as the pain and discomfort it causes, combined with an inability to communicate, can lead to agitation or aggression. Monitor bowel movements when possible. If your loved one isn’t having regular bowel movements, they may be constipated and need assistance via an over-the-counter of laxative or by adding natural laxative foods to their diet, such as prunes. If constipation is a recurring issue, be sure to discuss with your loved one’s doctor.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia have an increased risk of falling and injuring themselves. This is often caused by physical weakness, poor balance, and impaired memory and attention. Over time, those with Alzheimer’s and dementia require greater assistance to maintain mobility.
In one study, 80% of falls in those with Alzheimer’s occurred indoors. To reduce the risk of falls:
- Identify potential tripping hazards, such as unsecured rugs or wet floors. Remove throw rugs or secure them with tape, clean up spills immediately, and consider nonslip treads for indoor and outdoor stairs.
- Remove obstacles. Keep the home tidy and uncluttered. Ensure that walkways remain clear of obstructions to make it as easy as possible for your loved one to get around.
- Ensure that grab bars and handrails are installed in bathrooms and showers to make mobility easier.
Treating Complications Related to Alzheimer’s
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are treatments and medications that can help slow the disease’s progression and manage some complications. Speak with a medical professional to learn more about treatment options.
Treatments may come in the form of lifestyle changes or medication management. Always keep a record of your loved one’s behavior and any issues they may be experiencing, as this information will be important to share during health visits.
More Alzheimer’s Care Resources
If you found this article helpful, we invite you to read these related resources including expert advice on managing common dementia care challenges and how to overcome dementia fatigue.