Is it common for someone with Alzheimer's to have such a sudden decline of health?

3 answers | Last updated: Oct 04, 2016
Mary16 asked...

Our Dad is moving toward the end of moderate and into severe. But, in one week's time there has been such an incredible downward spiral. A week ago, our Dad was able to dress himself and when we visited, he looked so good: bright-eyed, color in his cheeks, smiling, joking. One week later and I couldn't believe it was the same person. He was falling asleep at the table, completely disoriented, slightly agitated, color way off. We all know his confusion with the disease, the loss of short-term memory and even some long term memory loss. But, his whole demeanor was so reminiscent of someone heavily medicated. His wife says that nothing has changed and she is not alarmed by this rapid deterioration. Is it common for one to take such a nose dive in such a short period of time?

Expert Answers

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.

Generally with Alzheimer's disease (AD) the progression of the disease is insidiously progressive. That is, you don't really see the decline happening. This rapid deterioration is much more common with a Vascular disease such as Multi-Infarct Dementia which presents in a more step-like course. One day the patient is dressing himself and the next day he struggles with it, whereas with AD, the person slowly loses the ability to do these once simple tasks over a period of many weeks or months. I, too, would be concerned about the sudden onset of these symptoms. Why did he suddenly go from being an alert interacting confused person to someone who is completely out-of-touch? Medications are frequently the trigger for this kind of behavior/cognitive change and I would definitely check with the pharmacist to see if this may be a drug reaction or interaction. If not, I would suggest medical intervention to find the trigger for this unusual ocurrence. You are correct in being concerned about this extremely rapid deterioration that is not typical of AD. Be well and take good care of yourself.

Community Answers

Suebax answered...

I couldn't believe reading this. Mary's father sounds exactly what my father has been like, going from one extreme to the other in a week's time. We visited him yesterday, and he was sleeping with his head on the table. He is in an assisted living facility. He stares off into space and tunes my voice out or doesn't hear me. I went to the pharmacist and she said there was no change in medication. We are meeting with the doctor this week, but until reading this, we were so confused. I think I am guilty of doing research on AD, rather than dementia. This was really helpful. Bless you, Mary, and thank you, Joanne. Suebax answered...

My husband has also been experiencing some rapid changes. He can still dress himself. However, one day he was still able to dress himself appropriately and the next he could not button his shirt properly or tie his tie. It was like a black and white over-night change. When I spoke with his neurologist he explained that alzheimers, like other progressive diseases, effects everyone differently. He did send him to a cardiologist for a full work-up and they found nothing that related to his symptoms.