When Alzheimer's Affects More than Memory

Medically Reviewed by Christopher Melinosky, MD on December 28, 2022
3 min read

Alzheimer's disease often begins with memory loss. But over time, it can lead to other mental, emotional, and physical problems.

You’ll want to know what to expect and be ready with solutions that will help your loved one with Alzheimer's if they have any of the following issues.

People with the disease may act anxious or get upset easily. When they feel this way, they may fidget, shout, throw things, or even try to hit other people. To help them:

Keep their surroundings quiet. Background noise, like sounds from the TV, can upset or confuse them.

Settle into a routine. Changes in their environment or daily routine, such as travel or visits from guests, can make them agitated.

Check for things that physically bother them.  Pain, fatigue, or needing to use the restroom could make them unsettled or trigger an outburst.

Stay calm. If they get upset or angry, don’t argue with them or criticize. Try to keep your voice even and your emotions steady.

People with Alzheimer's may have trouble controlling their bathroom needs. That's especially true as the disease gets worse. To prevent and manage accidents:

  • Take your loved one to the restroom every few hours.
  • Be aware of signs they need to go, including fidgeting and clutching clothing.
  • When you're away from home, know where the restrooms are.
  • Encourage them to drink less as it gets closer to bedtime.

It’s understandable, and common, for someone with Alzheimer’s to feel depressed, especially soon after they learn they have the disease. Antidepressant drugs may help. Other things that also help include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Spending more time around other people
  • Staying busy with hobbies and activities they enjoy

The disease causes coordination problems that make people more likely to lose their balance and fall. To help prevent that:

  • Encourage regular exercise, especially early in the disease, to help your loved one keep up their balance and strength.
  • Remove objects that are easy to trip on, such as loose rugs or extension cords. Also make sure that pets are safely out of the way.
  • Make sure stairways have at least one handrail.
  • Place non-skid strips and grab bars in the bathtub and bathroom.
  • Place non-skid strips on smooth floors.
  • Install night-lights.
  • Place easy-to-see stickers on large windows and sliding-glass doors to make it obvious that something solid is there.

People in the later stages of Alzheimer’s are more likely to get infections, including bladder infections, flu, and pneumonia. To lower your loved one’s chances of getting sick:

  • Talk to their doctor about getting a flu shot each year.
  • A one-time pneumonia shot after age 65 is also a good idea.
  • Watch for sudden changes in symptoms or behaviors, or a fever. These can point to an infection.

People with Alzheimer's may feel drowsy during the day but have trouble sleeping through the night. Take these steps to help your loved one get some rest:

Stick to a schedule. Keep them on a routine for bedtime, waking up, and meals.

No naps. Save sleeping for nighttime.

Get outside. Spend time outdoors, especially in bright sunlight early in the day. This can lead to better sleep at night.

Avoid "sleep wreckers." Urge them to quit caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.

Check medications. Ask their doctor or pharmacist if any of their prescriptions could affect sleep.

In the later stages of the disease, memory problems and confusion may give your loved one sudden urges to wander away from home. If they leave home alone, they could be in danger. To prevent wandering:

  • Make doors hard 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.
  • Have them wear an ID bracelet, just in case they does wander and need help finding their way home.