Dementia fatigue is a term used to describe the decreased energy level that is fairly common in early Alzheimer’s. While people commonly associate memory loss and confusion with the beginning stages of the disease, low energy is an equally challenging symptom to manage.
Determining the cause and finding ways to safely improve energy levels without increasing agitation can help you improve the quality of life for your loved one.
What Causes Low Energy for People with Alzheimer’s Disease?
There are a variety of factors that may be contributing to chronic fatigue for a person living with Alzheimer’s. They include:
- Depression: It is estimated that 40 percent of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease also suffer from depression. The physical and emotional challenges the disease creates are the likely culprits. A loss of independence, lower self-esteem, problems concentrating, and involuntary lifestyle changes make it easy to understand why people with this disease find themselves becoming depressed.
- Sleep Problems: Another factor may be difficulty sleeping. Researchers believe the damage that Alzheimer’s does to the brain disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm. That, in turn, creates problems sleeping. Even though they may be physically exhausted, a person with Alzheimer’s may be unable to sleep for extended periods of time.
- Medication Side Effects: Some medications commonly prescribed for older adults can cause drowsiness and fatigue. Blood pressure medicines, statins, proton pump inhibitors (PPI), benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and antihistamines may all contribute to excessive sleepiness.
- Poor Nutrition: Lack of a balanced diet and too many sugary foods can lead to vitamin deficiencies. Being deficient in vitamins D or B can cause fatigue, as can low levels of copper, iron, or magnesium.
- Hypothyroidism: Thyroid disease becomes more common with aging. If your senior loved one hasn’t had their thyroid tested, talk with their primary care physician about it. You might find they are living with hypothyroidism.
Related: Get together with other Alzheimer’s caregivers at one of our Memory Cafés >>
Helping Someone with Alzheimer’s Disease Overcome Chronic Fatigue
Fortunately, many of the underlying conditions that may be contributing to low energy and chronic fatigue can be treated. Here are a few steps you can take to help a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease improve their energy level:
1. Schedule an appointment with their primary care physician. The doctor can help evaluate your loved one for problems such as iron deficiency, vitamin D deficiency, and thyroid disease. A family physician can also assess them for depression and make recommendations for treatment. If you suspect a medication may be the cause of their fatigue, talk with the doctor to see if there are alternatives that might not contribute to energy problems.
2. Adopt a Mediterranean-style diet. Focus on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, olive oil, lean meats, and fish. Work on reducing or eliminating pasta, white flour products, pastries, and sugary drinks. This approach will help you improve your aging loved one’s nutritional intake while helping to keep their blood sugar stable.
3. Investigate methods for managing agitation and anxiety. These often lead to sleepless nights for those with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. The Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Center has a variety of information and resources dedicated to helping families who are struggling with these behaviors.
4. Create an inviting sleep environment at bedtime. Many people with Alzheimer’s wake up more often and stay awake longer during the night. Helping them stay active during the day and ease into a bedtime routine at night may help with their quality of sleep. This tip may also help reduce the symptoms of sundowning.
Explore Memory Care Services at The Bristal Assisted Living
We understand that caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be difficult at times. If you’re looking for a community that can offer support - whether it’s full-time memory care, adult day care services, or simply a place to gather with other caregivers - we can help.
Learn more about memory care at The Bristal Assisted Living.