Is my aunt with Alzheimer's forgetting how to breathe?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My aunt who is 93 has moderate Alzheimers, has started panting at times. We have had blood work, oxygen taken and the Dr. says she is ok. But at times not because she is upset or walking, She calms down. Could she just forget how to breath?

Expert Answer

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

It is quite logical to feel that someone with Alzheimer's (AD) might eventually forget how to breathe as each bodily system slowly begins to shut down. The important thing is that you have done what is necessary to clarify the cause of your aunt's shortness of breath - you have sought professional medical advice. When our good physicians say that a patient is "OK", I suspect what they are not adding is, "for her advanced age and and the physical maladies that accompany it". Truly, when all things are considered, it does seem that she is doing well. It is to be expected that as the disease progresses the infirmities that accompany old age will be increased and perhaps even hastened and that includes simple acts of daily function. Since breathing is an automatic response to living and not a learned behavior, when she is panting she is most likely just plain exhausted. You sound like a caring niece who has done all the necessary follow up. She is lucky to have you in her life. Take care of you.