Alzheimer’s disease is a challenging disorder that can wreak havoc on a person’s mind and life. But in addition to the disease itself, there are many injuries and illnesses that may be related to or caused by Alzheimer’s symptoms. If you’re caring for a loved one who is struggling with this debilitating disease, you should keep an eye out for these common health concerns.
Alzheimer’s medications such as Memantine may cause constipation in some patients. Additionally, many patients may not drink enough fluids or may have other changes in diet. Finally, a lack of exercise can also contribute to the problem. If your loved one is suffering from constipation, try to encourage them to drink more liquids and eat foods high in fiber. Simple exercises like going for a walk each day can also help move things along.
One pressing concern for Alzheimer’s patients is dehydration. Seniors, in general, tend to be more susceptible to this silent killer. Some prescriptions may contribute to the problem, but also difficulty swallowing, forgetfulness, or not recognizing thirst can cause patients to become dehydrated. Be sure to keep track of how much your loved one is drinking on a daily basis. It may be helpful to refill his or her glass routinely without being asked. In addition to water, offer favorite beverages and foods with high water content such as watermelon or yogurt.
For Alzheimer’s patients, depression is a very common response to their loss of independence and inability to do the things they’ve always done for themselves. It can be a particularly difficult condition to diagnose because depression shares a number of symptoms with Alzheimer’s. If you suspect your loved one is battling depression, be sure to discuss your observations with their primary care physician or a geriatric psychiatrist who specializes in this connection. A full examination of both physical and mental conditions should be conducted. This should also include interviews with caregivers and close family members.
Seniors often suffer from arthritis and other joint problems. Additionally, Alzheimer’s can cause a loss in balance or depth perception. For many, this is a recipe for disaster. If your loved one is having difficulty getting around, there are several environmental changes that can make a big difference. Keep walkways clear of clutter including decorative items. Remove throw rugs as moving from one type of surface to another can be challenging. Install grab bars in the bathroom and use chairs with arms to make getting up and down easier. Always ensure there is adequate lighting and your loved one has sturdy shoes with soles that provide traction.
Flu or Pneumonia
Patients are often at a greater risk of contracting infections such as the flu or pneumonia, and the complications can be devastating. They may be less vigilant about hand washing techniques and other preventative measures. Problems swallowing can also lead to aspiration pneumonia, the leading cause of death for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Keep an eye out for symptoms like difficulty breathing, fever, chills, or cough. Be sure your loved one gets a flu shot regularly and discuss the proper schedule for the shot with their doctor. For some elderly patients, two shots per year is recommended.
In addition to a loss of mental control, many Alzheimer’s patients also experience a loss of control over bodily functions. Incontinence, or a loss of bladder or bowel control, is a common problem. If you’ve noticed soiled clothing or bedsheets, be sure to consult a physician. Some causes may be treatable, such as enlarged prostate, urinary tract infection, dehydration, or medication that make it difficult to hold urine in.
It is not uncommon for patients to forget meals or to eat a poor diet due to difficulty chewing or digesting some foods. Patients may not be able to taste or smell as well as they once did, and gastrointestinal problems can mean they don’t absorb nutrients as easily. Loss of appetite due to depression or grief can also be a contributing factor. Caregivers should carefully monitor dietary habits to ensure their loved one is getting proper nutrition. Prepare soft foods that are easy to eat, and ensure they are served at a temperature that is comfortable. It may be helpful to serve several small and simple meals instead of three larger ones. Only incorporate vitamins or supplements after discussing them with a doctor.
Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are extremely common among seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s. This can also be caused by diabetes, kidney problems, or a weakened immune system. Unlike younger, healthy patients, UTIs in Alzheimer’s patients often cause sudden behavioral changes such as increased confusion, agitation or social withdrawal. This is because the immune system changes as we age and the body deals with infection differently. To prevent the problem, ensure your loved one is drinking plenty of water, practicing good hygiene, and using the bathroom roughly every two to three hours. If you suspect a UTI, seek medical advice. An undiagnosed infection can eventually spread to the bloodstream and cause life-threatening complications.
The good news for caregivers is that you don’t have to handle these medical concerns on your own. For Alzheimer’s patients, a trip to the local clinic or ER can be a confusing and difficult experience. Instead, get medical care at home from the team at DispatchHealth. Their qualified clinical teams are available to diagnose and treat most health problems in the comfort of your living room. This can be a great way to bypass the physical challenges of bringing a frail or homebound patient to the hospital and is more comfortable for those suffering from dementia. And since these expert caregivers accept most medical plans including Medicare, it won’t cost you any more than a visit to your local urgent care clinic.