Can a physical trauma accelerate Alzheimer's?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother was independent, living alone and had early Alzheimer's. I went to her house everyday to check on her and bring her dinner. She repeated stories but did nothing else unusual. Twelve days ago she was in a car wreck and has a fractures in her pelvis and four broken ribs. The following day she was delusional and hallucinating. She had no surgery. We discontinued all narcotics in hopes she would "clear", but she is still the same. I have to put her in a Memory Unit of a very lovely facility because I work full-time. After these types of events, and considering her baseline, do people go back to their original baseline?

Expert Answer

Jytte Lokvig, PhD, coaches families and professional caregivers and designs life-enrichment programs and activities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Her workshops and seminars help caregivers and families create a healthy environment based on dignity and humor. She is the author of Alzheimer's A to Z: A Quick-Reference Guide.

Severe physical and mental trauma can cause acute dementia, known as delirium. Patients usually bounce back to their previous mental state. However, a person who is prone to dementia or already has Alzheimer's may experience an acceleration of their mental decline.

Your mother's delusions and hallucinations sound like delirium, brought on directly by the accident. Only time will tell the long-term effects of this episode. She has suffered extensive injuries and needs time to heal. In the meantime you can urge the staff at her care facility to help her stay active and involved.