Is it possible to recover from the last stage of Alzheimer's disease?

4 answers | Last updated: Sep 23, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Is it possible to recover from what is considered the last stage of Dementia/Alzheimer's? My Mother slipped into this stage from one day to the next. Is that typical?

My Mom was diagnosed with Dementia/Alzheimer's about a year or more ago. She exhibited the normal symptoms of grasping and searching for the right words to say. I can't imagine anything more frustrating. At times she had her clothes on inside out or wearing clothes over pajamas and not being aware. About a month or so ago my Mom was acting funny. She wanted to stay in bed and she was curling up. We rushed her to the hospital and it turned out she had a urinary tract infection. We did not know. She was in the hospital for two weeks. They think she was in a state of hypo delirium. She was barely responsive. She was stabilized and released and they are telling us she has moved into the last stage of her disease. She has stopped talking and eating almost overnight. Has anyone experienced this? They are telling us to involve hospice and that she has a month left. One week before she was admitted into the hospital we were out shopping and having lunch. This sudden descent has devastated all of us.

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.

Urinary tract infections are very common in the elderly, particularly in women. As caregivers it can be hard for us to detect the problem. A person with dementia/Alzheimer's may lose the ability to express their pain or physical discomfort other than through a change in behavior. Your mom's demeanor of curling up in a ball and being unresponsive were indicators of her physical distress. It must have been a very serious infection to have required two weeks in the hospital. The diagnosis of hypo-delirium sounds reasonable. Physical and emotional trauma can cause delirium, but it usually wanes after a while. Delirium is an acute and usually temporary dementia. I would not be so ready to call this the last stage of the disease; she may bounce back, but be prepared for a decline in her cognition. I would suggest that you don't give up but work on helping her back.

If she has problems with eating, try very small portions or health shakes. Surround her with her favorite music, sing with her and tell her stories about favorite moments as a family. One tip: use red plates or bowls for her food. Red stimulates the appetite.

There's no harm in bringing in hospice. Ask for suggestions from the hospice nurse on how to help her stay mobile. Two weeks flat on her back has probably caused pretty serious atrophy in her muscles and she will need gentle exercises to build up her strength.

Community Answers

Cm2011 answered...

She had sepsis resulting from a urinary tract. It took them 10 days to hydrate her and get her sodium level down to normal. She has not recovered after 2 months from the delirium.

Jytte lokvig answered...

She may still improve. The older we are, the longer it takes our bodies to recuperate from trauma. In the meantime, I stand by my advice on exercise, nourishment and keeping her spirit up - and the color red.

Cm2011 answered...

Thank you Ms. Lokvig!