Answers to Common Alzheimer’s Disease Questions

Premier Health providers answer frequently asked questions about Alzheimer’s disease and how to live with and manage the condition.

If Alzheimer’s affects the ability to function, communicate and reason, how does one die from the disease?

Dr. Larry Lawhorne discusses how someone can die from Alzheimer’s disease. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

   

What usually happens in people with Alzheimer's disease — if they don’t have a heart attack or die from an injury — is that they lose the ability to swallow.

If you cannot swallow, you are in danger of becoming undernourished and can die of malnutrition. Problems with swallowing can also cause pneumonia, especially if food gets into the lungs. Alzheimer’s patients often get repeated cases of pneumonia and are more susceptible to infections that can spread through the bloodstream, such as a severe urinary tract infection.

People often ask why someone with Alzheimer’s can’t be fed with a feeding tube once they lose the ability to swallow. We can improve someone’s nutritional values with tube feeding, but we can’t change their cognition or the progression of the disease. We can’t change that the patient is becoming bedbound, no longer communicates with family and that their quality of life may not be what they want.

This is why it’s important to have the discussion about end of life when a person still is able to express their wishes. 

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Source: Larry Lawhorne, MD, Wright State Physicians; National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer’s Association