Can Alzheimer's be triggered by a traumatic experience?

6 answers | Last updated: Jan 18, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

Can Alzheimer's be triggered by a traumatic experience?

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.

Physical trauma such as infections, injury, drug-reactions or interactions; dehydration and malnutrition, infections, or even anesthesia can bring on acute and temporary dementia, known as "delirium." If a person is already disposed to dementia, a single traumatic experience can trigger a sharp mental decline and onset of Alzheimer's or a related dementia. Emotional trauma, such as the death of a spouse, sibling, or child, has also been known to have caused acute onset of Alzheimer's and other dementia; however most likely the person was already prone to the disease.

Any time you have a sudden onset of any of these symptoms, it's important to be proactive. The person should have a thorough physical exam to eliminate possible reversible conditions of delirium.

Community Answers

Cbs answered...

I disagree with the "expert" this time. I'm an RN, my Dad had Alzheimer's, I lead Alzheimer's support groups for years as well as grief support groups. As she said, "a single traumatic experience can trigger a sharp mental decline" but I do not agree that it triggers the "onset of Alzheimer's or a related dementia." The Alzheimer's is already at work, the traumatic emotional or physical event merely makes the symptoms noticable perhaps earlier and more sudden than they would have presented had the "event" not occurred.

Jytte lokvig answered...

Stand corrected on one part. Yes, the disease is already present and the trauma simply brings it to the surface.

After almost two decades working this community, I have witnessed several such dramatic plunges into dementia or a sudden extremem decline in a person with Alzheimer's. Some after major surgery and others brought on by psychological trauma, such as loss of a loved one or major move with no transition.

1quadmama answered...

Can it be reversed? Is it permanent or can the individual be brought back to where they were before the traumatic event??? I ask because we are going through this as we speak and it is heartbreaking.

Jetski answered...

I don't know that reversing dementia is possible,but I know the heartbreak as well. Symptoms of dementia can also be caused by dehydration as well as by a urinary tract infection, good reasons for a thorough physical with blood work.

Beulahbreath answered...

I'm not sure it is a 'reversal' per say, but my mom was diagnosed with traumatic psychological dementia after the death of my father and her mother within a week of each other and for the next 3 years she was completely dependent upon me for her care and could not tend to herself at all. She was under several doctors care, including Neurologist, Endocrinologist, and Psychiatrist, and and it was an awful roller coaster ride. 9 months ago she "came out of it" so to speak and is living by herself once again. She is not 100% like she was before but she does have her independence back, I do worry when or if the "light switch" will go off again. I wouldn't call it Alzheimer's but it definitely was a form of dementia.