Death is certain. Its means are not. Terminal illnesses are one of the ways in which many people around the world lose their loved ones. Many of these illnesses are awaiting adequate research and the discovery of a cure. Alzheimer’s is one of these. Let us find out how does Alzheimer’s kill you.
The science behind Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease. It is caused when there is an unusually high deposit of proteins in the brain which leads to the destruction of brain cells. As a result, the functionality of the brain reduces making patients forgetful in their early stages. Gradually, mild memory problems begin to turn worse due to the degeneration of more brain cells. Daily body functions become difficult to carry out and the decline worsens by restricting the patient to the bed since they forget how to walk, eat or control voluntary body functions like bladder and bowel control.
The brain is responsible for everything we do, feel or sense. When cells in the brain begin to die, parts of the brain which can help us carry out our day-to-day work starts to fail. This is why Alzheimer’s becomes the cause for other illnesses or problems which may eventually become the cause of death.
The onset of Alzheimer’s
In its early stages, Alzheimer’s is difficult to identify. This is because it is often mistaken for the usual memory loss caused by old age. The uncertainty of a person having Alzheimer’s makes it more difficult for the loved ones to act on it. In the early stages, even physicists may not be able to detect the disease. It is only when the brain cells have suffered a lot of damage that the cognitive abilities of the person will start to decline and physicians will be able to identify symptoms of dementia.
Impacts of Alzheimer’s leading to the death of the patient
People suffering from Alzheimer’s have their own trajectory through the different stages of the disease, but there are some things that are common among all and this is either put into three stages termed as the early stage, moderate stage and the end stage or into 7 stages which are:
- No Impairment
- Very Mild Decline
- Mild Decline
- Moderate Decline
- Moderately Severe Decline
- Severe Decline
- Very Severe Decline
To answer the question how does Alzheimer’s kill you, you must understand the way in which it causes mental and physical decline. In the end, Alzheimer’s causes death either directly or indirectly through the conditions that the patient develops as they enter the later stages.
The earliest impact of Alzheimer’s is the loss of memory. Since it is very mild like forgetting where you put the keys or forgetting the name of your new neighbor or not being able to find the right word while talking to someone, these signs may often be overlooked because Alzheimer’s mostly affects people in their old age.
But these simple acts of forgetfulness would soon turn more problematic as the person will start showing signs of confusion about the things that they must do and about the place where they are. They may have difficulties remembering their own past and may even find it difficult to remember personal details like their birthday, phone number or anniversary.
While the loss of cognitive abilities can cause irritability and confusion, Alzheimer’s eventually attacks the brain cells which are responsible for bodily functions. Patients may find it difficult to climb the stairs, zig-zag down a road or run after a butterfly. They will need assistance with basic daily activities like taking a bath, using the toilet or walking down the road. In some instances, patients tend to wander on their own and may start experiencing personality changes.
Towards the end of the disease, walking becomes too difficult and patients may end up staying on the bed all the time. This leads to bed sores. They may also lose the ability to connect with their environment or communicate with anyone (even their loved ones). Since the disease attacks brain cells, people who suffer from Alzheimer’s do not have much insight about their own condition towards the end stage. They may say words or phrases which may make no sense or which may be completely unrelated to the conversation you are having with them.
Old wounds may start to cause problems as blood circulation reduces when the patient is on the bed. And while medicines or antibiotics could help, the patient may lose their ability to swallow food which means that they can no longer take medicines orally. This happens towards the end stage which leads to a number of other conditions caused by the lack of nutrition, low blood circulation and the patient’s inability to swallow properly.
It is difficult to account for the number of deaths caused by Alzheimer’s because the disease causes many other problems that are eventually recorded as the main cause of death. This is why statistics on Alzheimer’s may not be completely correct.
How does Alzheimer’s kill you?
As a terminal illness, the end result of Alzheimer’s is death. In most cases, a 60-year-old who has recently developed Alzheimer’s may not be able to survive untill 70. But Alzheimer’s does not take life very quickly either. The different stages of Alzheimer’s can be spread across a couple of years. Patients end up battling Alzheimer’s for more than five years before they may start experiencing the last stages of the disease.
When walking is no more possible and swallowing becomes a problem, the patient ends up being on the bed all the time and surviving mostly on juices or liquid diet. Even the liquid diet may have to be administered with the help of sippy cups because the patient would not be able to swallow on their own.
Bed sores begin to cause distress in the patients and the lack of blood circulation may lead to pain or may open up old injuries. At the same time since the patient has no bladder or bowel control, they may develop urinary tract infections which they are unable to explain and may end up remaining undiagnosed. The lack of a good diet would start showing signs of malnutrition and dehydration. And a common reason for death among Alzheimer’s patients is the development of aspiration pneumonia when food or liquid enters the windpipe instead of the food pipe causing lung infection or damaging the lungs.
Impacts of Alzheimer’s on the friends and family of the patient
Knowing that their loved one is suffering from a terminal sickness is the biggest cause of grief among the friends and family of the patient. But nothing is able to prepare a person to see the decline of cognitive and physical abilities in their loved one. No matter how much you may read or learn about the disease, it is difficult to constantly overcome personal grief in order to prioritize the patient’s needs.
Since memory loss will make it difficult for the patient to remember their loved ones, friends and family may end up sitting around the patient as a group of strangers hoping to see the patient win the battle.
While some countries have adequate help through healthcare services and care homes, in many countries patients suffering from Alzheimer’s end up being cared for by untrained family members. In situations like these, family members find it even more difficult to identify the symptoms of decline and are unable to effectively care for the patient.
This is what you would need to know about how does Alzheimer’s kill you. The terminal disease does not have a cure till now and we do not have a way to slow it down or prevent it either. Several families lost their loved ones to this disease. While prevention may not be possible, understanding the disease can help you support the patient more effectively and identifies the symptoms of their decline.