9 Symptoms Never to Ignore With Alzheimer's Disease

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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  • Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic condition characterized by memory loss and gradual loss of control over bodily functions. Taking care of a spouse, parent, or other loved one with Alzheimer’s is an emotionally and physically demanding endeavor, and it’s easy to feel hopeless at times. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and despite your care and concern, your loved one will continue to decline. However, there’s a lot you can do to maintain their health and well-being. Notify a doctor if you see any of these nine symptoms of common Alzheimer’s disease complications.

  • 1
    doors of men's and women's public bathroom

    Alzheimer’s disease kills brain cells, and as the disease progresses, a person may forget how to get to the bathroom, or lose the ability to un-do a zipper in time to use the toilet. Eventually, people with Alzheimer’s disease lose voluntary control of the bowel and bladder. However, a variety of physical ailments, including urinary tract infections and constipation, can cause incontinence also. So if your loved one is having problems with toileting, tell a physician. A physical exam may identify an underlying medical problem that needs treatment.

  • 2
    Weight loss
    Elderly Caucasian woman with bowl of soup experiencing loss of appetite

    People with Alzheimer’s disease sometimes forget to eat. Loss of appetite is also common and can lead to decreased food intake. In the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, people often have a hard time chewing and swallowing food. If you notice significant weight loss, tell your healthcare provider. A thorough medical exam may reveal an easily treatable problem, such as ill-fitting dentures. Or, the doctor may suggest supplements to bump up their nutritional intake.

  • 3
    Older Caucasian woman checking forehead of older Caucasian man with fever holding tissue

    Fever can be a sign of infection, dehydration, heat stroke, or constipation. Because people with Alzheimer’s disease often struggle with communication, they may not be able to tell you if they are in pain or uncomfortable. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to physical signs of distress. If your loved one develops a fever, contact your healthcare provider. A physical exam may be necessary to determine the likely cause of the fever. Then, appropriate treatment can help them feel better.

  • 4
    Older African American man looking concerned with head in hand looking out window

    How can you tell if someone with Alzheimer’s is depressed? It’s difficult. Many of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease—withdrawal, loss of interest in activities and trouble thinking, for instance—are also common symptoms of depression. But appropriate diagnosis and treatment of depression leads to improved quality of life, so it’s worth mentioning possible symptoms of depression to the doctor. A referral to a geriatric psychiatrist, a doctor who specializes in treating older adults with mental health challenges, may also help.

  • 5
    Sleep changes
    Older Caucasian woman lying awake in bed next to sleeping husband

    Some people with Alzheimer’s sleep nearly all day—and are up almost all night. Such changes in sleep habits can be exhausting for caregivers. Your healthcare provider can help you design a daily schedule to help maximize your loved one’s nighttime sleep (and allow you to get the rest you need!). Simple tweaks, such as regular outdoor activity during the daytime and adequate treatment of pain can make a big difference.

  • 6
    Older African American woman drinking a glass of water and looking toward window

    The body doesn’t work well when it doesn’t get enough fluid. Too-little fluid intake can cause hallucinations, rapid heart rate, dizziness, and confusion. Because adults with Alzheimer’s disease don’t always recognize thirst as a cue to drink, caregivers must monitor fluid intake. If you notice symptoms of dehydration, including darker-than-normal urine, dry mouth, or skin that ’tents‘ when you pinch it, offer fluids. For a consistently hard time taking in fluids, talk with your healthcare provider. It may be time to introduce thickening agents that turn liquids into semi-solids.

  • 7
    Older African American man with stomach pain sitting on side of bed

    If your loved one hasn’t had a bowel movement in three days, notify your healthcare provider. Constipation is a common complication of Alzheimer’s disease; as people decrease their activity and intake, the regularity of their bowel movements decreases too. Your healthcare provider can check for any underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to constipation, and make recommendations to keep things moving. Occasionally, a stool softener or laxative is necessary to get back on track.

  • 8
    Delusions or hallucinations
    Older women looking into distance with concerned family members in background

    Occasionally, people with Alzheimer’s disease will see, hear, feel, taste or smell something that doesn’t exist, or believe something that isn’t true. These experiences can be terrifying for the person with Alzheimer’s and unsettling for caregivers. Contact your healthcare provider if your loved one experiences delusions or hallucinations. The doctor will conduct a physical exam and check the medication list to see if any regular meds might be causing these strange effects. If so, a medication tweak may be in order. If hallucinations are an ongoing problem, prescription medication may be necessary to control them.

  • 9
    Close-up of hand on door handle with outdoor scene in background

    It’s not uncommon for people with Alzheimer’s disease to wander. Some are looking for ’home’ or another destination; others simply begin walking and then become lost, disoriented and confused. Wandering is dangerous for people with Alzheimer’s, and distressing for caregivers. If your loved one is wandering, tell your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Your provider can work with you to develop a plan to keep her safe and secure.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 19
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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