Can a physical trauma accelerate Alzheimer's?

8 answers | Last updated: Oct 23, 2016
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 Answers

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.


Community Answers

Liz12 answered...

I appreciate this thoughtful answer. It has been close to 3 weeks and she still remains in a sweet delusional state. Thanks for your ideas.


Natash answered...

This reminds me so much of my mom. Dr. Lokvig is right. You just have to give it a little time to see if the "delirium" subsides. Be prepared, though, for this to be a progression of the disease. My mom was in mid-stage Alzheimer's when my dad passed away. She was a lot more confused after he died. She kept asking where he was and that was really hard. Looking back on things, I think it was an answer to a prayer. If she was the same as before he died, I don't know if she would've been able to handle his passing. A couple of months later, she had some health issues and was in the hospital for over a week. She went "way downhill" from there. When there were any changes from the norm for her, she would decline. However, there were times that that decline was temporary. Sometimes she would bounce back a little. She is now in the advanced stage, so only if something affects her health will I see a quick decline. I hope this helps.


Liz12 answered...

This does help me quite a bit. We are now 3 months after the car wreck and she is still delusional. She is on meds to help and she lives her days confused but more at ease. Thanks for your help.


Newshound answered...

My dad broke his pelvis, his wife stayed with him in the hospital for the first few days because of a snowstorm. When she went home he got delirious. They gave him seroquell which made him worse and what he really needed was pain medication. He is at a stage where he doesn't recognize pain and just gets aggitated, and I was all day on the phone with the hospital to get him OFF seroquel which was dangerous for him according to the company that makes it, and give him pain meds(which was as needed, but he didn't know that he needed it!)He was much better and could talk sense again. Many alzheimers patients don't know when they need pain meds and it seems many health care people don't understand that. Like I said I really had to fight to get them for him. He was doing physical therapy with a broken pelvis, I'm sure it was very painful and they did say he would grimace. They should have known.


Punkersad-sharon midlothian, il answered...

Every time my dad went to the hospital he got a little worse. He would have delirium in the hospital and for a period afterwards. The periods lasted longer each time and an increasing amount lingered each time.


Mushermaggie answered...

We've found this to be true with my MIL. She had been having very mild confusion & memory loss for a year or two. We lost my FIL in December, & the confusion was much more pronounced. After an automobile accident the end of February, 3 weeks in ICU, she was discharged to a nursing home. Her impairment is much greater now than it was in the hospital. She had some agitation issues was put on Aricept & Abilify. She has calmed down, almost too much, but the mental impairment persists. She still knows who everyone is, but her mind does not go to things like taking care of finances or many of the "everyday" things she used to take care of.


Angip0308 answered...

My mom in law has had minor memory and focus problems, loss of interest in social situations, decreased appetite, etc. She has also been seeing her late husband at night sitting next to her bed. Our family has been concerned, we thought maybe it was depression, and have tried to reason with her about taking an anti-depressant. However, after discovering a mass and then being diagnosed with cancer, her mental status has declined rapidly. In the last month, she has went from living on her own, to needing around the clock care. She cannot get herself dressed, she forgets to eat or drink, she stuffs things in cupboards, under mattresses, etc. I believe now that she may have had early dementia, but the stress of the diagnosis has made it progress more rapidly. I am hoping that she will come back to us a little in the next few months.