Will my husband's past addictions have any impact on his Alzheimer's disease?

2 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
Alzheimers asked...

My husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's a couple of years ago.He drank,smoked,and had a cocaine addiction from his teen years to his middle fifties. He is now sixty-one years old and was diagnosed two years ago. Will these addictions contribute to his disease in any way?

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.

What a trooper you are! These must have been very difficult years for you. Now you face life with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and that is a life compounded by your husband's past addictive behavior. Research from all points on the globe relates that maintaining a "˜healthy' lifestyle in our younger years helps us to have a smoother sail through our later years. What they suggest is a balanced diet of nutritious low-fat foods, a daily exercise regimen, good sleeping habits, and cognitive exercises to enhance mental health. Smoking, drinking, and drugs do not have a role in taking appropriate care of ourselves as young people so that we may be the best we can be as older adults. Researchers also indicate that all 3 of the addictions you mentioned can negatively impact the progression of AD. There is new and impressive data pointing to smoking alone as increasing the risk of Alzheimer's, and alcohol and drug abuse as possible culprits in killing healthy brain cells. The probable damage to your husband's vital organs most likely began before his diagnosis of AD. His ability to stave off otherwise unthreatening illnesses and maladies of aging has been compromised. Unfortunately his previous behaviors will most likely compound the damage to brain cells that is the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. If it is at all possible, love him for who he is now and be with him in this new and unfamiliar world he is now inhabiting. Above all else, do take care of YOU!

Community Answers

Patp3005 answered...

Here are my own unprofessional observations. My mom has ALZ and was also an active alcoholic through most of her life. She was a very disagreeable person, verbally abusive and just unpleasant to be around in general. My husband and I had her living in our home for three years before it got too difficult to look after her and continue to make a living. She was still drinking while she lived with us. And badly abusing her medications (she wouldn't 'let' me administer them.) She is now in an assisted living facility. The 'phase' she is in now is that she is beginning to accept that this is where she will be living and she is beginning to realize that she HAS alzheimer's. Both things are working to create a depression in her - they have assured me that this is the next, natural step. Being in the ALF, they are controlling her meds and she has no access to alcohol unless someone takes her out for a meal. She still gets mean and ugly. But I've seen a GREAT decline in that and an increase in a mellowness. I don't know if it's the stage of ALZ, the control of substances in her body, a forced healthy diet. My guess is that it is a combination of all of these things plus a sadness about realizing where her life has brought her. Her abuse of her body has most certainly speeded up her decline. And I think the personality that caused the addictions made the ALZ worse, if that makes sense. But I have been told by a few people that people who were sweet, nice people tend to get mean, and people who were mean tend to get easier. So far, that has certainly been my experience. I really hope it is for you too. And please, please don't try to do this alone. I took it for much longer than was healthy for me. And I'm still recovering. {{{hugs}}} to you