What eventually kills an Alzheimer's patient?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What eventually kills an Alzheimer's patient?

Expert Answer

Ladislav Volicer, M.D., Ph.D., is recognized as an international expert on advanced dementia care. He is a courtesy full professor at the School of Aging Studies, University of South Florida, Tampa, and visiting professor at the Third Medical Faculty, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic. Twenty-five years ago, he established one of the first dementia special care units.

Most common cause of death in individuals with advanced Alzheimer's disease is an intercurrent infection, mostly pneumonia. An intercurrent infection is almost inevitable consequence of advanced dementia because of impairment of immune function, inability to ambulate, incontinence, and aspiration. Even when one infection is cured, it very often comes back and eventually may not respond to antibiotic treatment. Since diagnosis of an infection and treatment with antibiotics may have adverse effects on patients comfort, a hospice/palliative care approach to management of infections in advanced dementia may be better than aggressive treatment.