When Alzheimer's Affects More than Memory

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.

Agitation and Aggression

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 his surroundings quiet. Background noise, like sounds from the TV, can upset or confuse him.

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

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

Stay calm. If he gets upset or angry, don’t argue with him or criticize. Try to keep your voice even and your emotions steady.

Bladder and Bowel Problems

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 he needs to go, including fidgeting and clutching clothing.
  • When you're away from home, know where the restrooms are.
  • Encourage him to drink less as it gets closer to bedtime.

Depression

It’s understandable, and common, for someone with Alzheimer’s to feel depressed, especially soon after he learns he has 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 he enjoys

Falls

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.
  • Make sure stairways have at least one handrail.
  • Place non-skid strips in the bathtub and 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.

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Infections

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 his 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.

Sleep Problems

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 him 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 him to quit caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.

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

Wandering

In the later stages of the disease, memory problems and confusion may give your loved one sudden urges to wander away from home. If he leaves home alone, he 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 him wear an ID bracelet, just in case he does wander and needs help finding his way home.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on December 17, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

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)" and "Patient information: Dementia (including Alzheimer disease) (Beyond the Basics)."

Beveridge, L. Clinical Interventions in Aging, June 21, 2011.

Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center: "Home safety for people with Alzheimer's disease."

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