Can Alzheimer's patients recover their memory?

7 answers | Last updated: Aug 30, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Two years ago, my 89 year old husband was deemed to have Alzheimer's. No tests were done, other than the mini one in the doctor's office. I had expressed to the doctor concern several times about my husband's memory problems, but when, five minutes after having his annual physical, my husband insisted that he hadn't seen the doctor, the doctor put him on Namenda and Aricept.

Since then, there have been many fairly good days, when I have doubted the diagnosis, and not so good days, when I have been convinced that it was accurate. Looking at information about the stages of Alzheimer's I've felt he is probably early-midstage. On the whole, though, the progress of the dementia has been slow, which I attribute to the meds. However, in the past week his longterm memory seems to have suddenly revived a great deal (though short-term is still bad), and he seems more alert and more like himself, taking an interest in things again. For example, in the year and a half since I took over our finances he has shown no interest at all, happy to have that responsibility off his shoulders. Now, he has started asking to see bank statements and other info from investments, saying that he used to take care of all that and feels guilty that he no longer does so. This is not done in a suspicious way or even in an anxious way -- just a curious wondering, and after a quick look he relaxes and seems pleased.

Is this apparent improvement in his mental capacity normal in Alzheimer's? I have never read of people perking up like this, and am wondering how long it's likely to last . . . and whether there is likely to be a sudden end to the improvement.

Will be very interested in your comments -- thank you!

Expert Answers

Ladislav Volicer, M.D., Ph.D., is recognized as an international expert on advanced dementia care. He is a courtesy full professor at the School of Aging Studies, University of South Florida, Tampa, and visiting professor at the Third Medical Faculty, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic. Twenty-five years ago, he established one of the first dementia special care units.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease change from day to day as you already noticed. They also depend on other conditions, such as depression. It is possible that your husband was depressed and his depression lifted recently. Another possibility is recovery from a small stroke that is sometimes combined with Alzheimer's disease. If your husband loses all interests again you might want to ask a physician if an antidepressant treatment would be indicated.

SEE ALSO: Find Memory Care Near You

Community Answers

Recorderist answered...

I am just a layperson and wife-caregiver of one wonderful person who is in late stage 4 of 7 if you use that scale. We definitely have good and bad days. Recently, as part of my ongoing attempt to have his military disability re-evaluated (not done since he left service in 1970 or 71, I had him see a VA psychiatrist about what I knew to be a number of symptoms of PTSD. He has also had a huge blow to his self image and comfort level in the past 8 months due to injury and resulting chronic pain. Since she prescribed an antidepressant (and I got another physician to start him on a reasonable pain management regimen), he has seemed to rally significantly!

Charlotte alig answered...

My husband started in on a month long series of trying to get truck to forget his worries about the AD I think. Anyway, one night, after which he had NOT drunk most of the vodka bottle, as he had been doing, he had a convulsion. The doctors said it was withdrawal from alcohol..I did not think so, he is not addicted physically to alcohol.At any rate, the next week, he had a small stroke, or TIA and he too seemed to revert to his loving and laughing days..he had been for the last several months prior to this TIA a real ugly partner...swift to explode, blaming everything on me, and saying he wished he had never married is over a month now and he still has most of this good mood thing....for which I am highly grateful..

Kunzite52 answered...

I have seen in the past 3 and half years I have cared for my dad, that his short term memory gets worse. But the long term memory can be really good on many days. Those are the days I treasure. Sometimes he knows where he lives and remembers who he lives with (his family and dog) and by nighttime forgets it all again. I usually try to get him to bed early as the sundowners is so bad with him. That way if he gets enough sleep things are better in the morning. IF he goes on a spree of not sleeping then he will hallucinate and live in delusions. Each time this has happened I have had to work with docs to change his meds or hospitalize him for awhile. It does not get easier unfortunately but there are still good days, and for those we make the most of it. I honestly have noticed that meds (antidepressants, antipsychotics, anxiety meds) will only work for so long and then need to be changed.

Ron071 answered...

This site, while so very helpful, reveals to me daily as a primary care giver that so very much is unknown about this terrible disease that we must as a nation devote urgently needed dollars to research which will enable so very many to live fuller lives. Perhaps, the key to this lies in the sands of Iraq, Afghanistan and, now , Libya along with the US military bases in so many nations which can afford to defend themselves. Will the day of national priorities ever arrive?

A fellow caregiver answered...

Thank you Ron071 for a very honest answer about the suffering of the elderly population and the challenge we all face due to the priorities of the government. I am 59 years old and have been on disability since I was 52. I have COPD and had another serious illness. People often treat me like "scum" because they work and they feel I have the "life of Riley." I suggest that we not be so judgmental and have some compassion. Most people judge me without even asking why I am sick. And furthermore, such people are unaware that I spend nearly every minute of my day caring for my dad who is in moderate stage of Alzheimer's and can barely walk due to scoliosis. Thank you again for your opinion, one which I tend to agree with.

Polarbear answered...

Nobody knows, truth be known...Alzheimer's Disease...or 'acute senile on-set dementia', which ever you label claims roughly 6-million American victims...through today, (22 Sept. 2011), that is. By the year 2050 that number is expected to exceed 18-million. Yet the only way the world's medical-profession can truly evaluate the extent of this ultra-hideous malady, right now, is via a conventional autopsy!!! In other words, if you genuinely want to know the full extent of your specific Alzheimer's condition, then DIE! But before you expire, be certain to have someone pre-selected and legally pre-cleared to order for you a full autopsy of your withered brain!!! Then some stranger will know how bad a case of Alzheimer's you actually had; but you never will. Perhaps some body might be helped as a direct result; nobody knows, truth be known. Odd,isn't it: Our 'richest-in-the-world' nation can spend untold trillions of dollars killing Arabs we don't know, but we can't fund research to help eliminate the lethal debilitating diseases preying upon mankind. Hmmmmmmm. I ask you: Is this a great country, or what!