Can Alzheimer's cause death

What do Alzheimer's patients actually die of?

Questioner: ML from S.

Published: 08/30/2020

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive deterioration of the brain. The memory fades. But what ultimately leads to the death of those affected?

The answer from the editors is:

Prof. Dr. Stefan Teipel, Head of Clinical Research at the Rostock / Greifswald location - German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases: Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disease in which the nerve cells in the brain are permanently damaged and die. The course of the disease shows a certain systematics.

Typically, the disease begins in the memory-relevant areas, i.e. in the medial temporal lobe and in the hippocampus. From there, the neurodegeneration spreads to the rest of the cerebral mantle, whereby the regions that are primarily responsible for motor functions and the visual cortex are usually preserved for a long time. The limited ability to learn new things, also known as anterograde memory disorder, is accordingly one of the first symptoms. The memory, especially for content that was recently in the past, degrades. The parietal lobe is also affected early on, which leads to disorientation.

The damage in the transition between the temporal and occipital lobes in the next stage leads to impairments in recognizing people, which is very stressful for everyone involved. The further the disease progresses and the more brain areas are affected, the more serious the consequences. The memory of long-ago events and judgment also dwindle. Many of those affected experience changes in behavior, e.g. a reversal of the day-night rhythm and sleep disorders.

Immobilization occurs in advanced stages of the disease. This makes patients more susceptible to infectious diseases. Depending on where people live and how they are cared for, they eat worse and drink less, which puts them at an increased risk of developing delirium. This in turn can lead to death through immobility and vegetative derailment with disorders of the heart function. The leading cause of death is pneumonia due to immobilization. Repeated seizures can occur in the very advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease and contribute to mortality. Most people do not die directly from Alzheimer's disease, but from its consequences for the self-sufficiency and mobility of those affected.

Through early diagnosis, medical treatment, treatment of secondary effects and intensive advice and support for those affected and their relatives, the course of the disease can be positively influenced and the quality of life of the sick and their families can be sustainably improved.

Recorded by Anke Lorenz-Hoppe