What complications related to Alzheimer's can prove fatal?

Zaldy S. Tan, MD
Geriatric Medicine

Alzheimer’s disease is rarely the cause of death in patients with the disease. Usually, the cause of death is complications that arise from the brain degeneration that Alzheimer’s causes. Common causes of death for Alzheimer’s patients include:

  • Pneumonia. This occurs when Alzheimer’s impairs the part of the brain that controls swallowing. The lack of muscle coordination can cause food and fluid to travel down the wind pipe instead of the esophagus (food pipe). This leads to pneumonia, which can often be fatal.
  • Falls and head trauma. Alzheimer’s can start to affect the part of the brain responsible for controlling leg muscles and balance. This impairs the walking, which can lead to falls with head trauma or hip fracture.
Judith London, MD
As Alzheimer's progresses, individuals become less able to perform the daily tasks we all do when we are healthy. Eventutally the damaged brain cells no longer send out the messages needed to cough, swallow or eat. So, if someone gets a bad cold, it can lead to penumonia. If a person cannot swallow, he no longer can eat. Any infection that may lead to a hospital stay is difficult for someone with advancing Alzheimer's since he no longer understands what is happening to him and often resists treatment. People with Alzheimer's continue to decline as these problems overwhelm them.

Accidents or falls caused by disorientation, a lack of balance, or wandering off are common with Alzheimer's patients. These could cause death, or lead to other complications, such as surgery.

Although Alzheimer's is always fatal, the most common cause of death for people with Alzheimer's stems from some other acquired infection.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.