Alzheimer’s Disease Complications

Written by Wendy Leonard, MPH | Published on August 29, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA on August 29, 2014

Alzheimer’s Disease Complications

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia. It typically results in issues with memory, cognitive abilities, and general behavior. Symptoms can be difficult to manage and sometimes interfere with daily life. There is currently no cure for AD.

Certain complications can be difficult to deal with and present larger health problems. Talk to your doctor if you or a loved one may be suffering from AD. There are treatment options and medications available to ease symptoms.


The most common cause of death for people with AD is aspiration pneumonia. This develops when a person does not swallow correctly. Food or liquid goes down the windpipe (trachea) instead of the food pipe (esophagus). This can cause blockage, damage, injury, or infection. 

 Aspiration results in inflammation of the lungs and the chemical damage is known as a chemical pneumonitis.

Factors that determine the type of treatment include:

  • how early the pneumonia is caught
  • the  severity
  • the amount of lung involved
  • the type (s) of bacteria
  • the person’s general health

In most cases, treatment options include support care, respiratory support, and antibiotics. 

There are several ways to reduce the risk of aspiration. These include having the person eat with their head fully elevated and ensuring food is cut in small pieces for easy swallowing.

General Complications

Other complications of AD include:

  • loss of ability to function or care for self
  • bedsores
  • loss of ability to move joints because of loss of muscle function
  • infection, particularly urinary tract infections and pneumonia
  • falls and broken bones
  • loss of ability to interact
  • malnutrition and dehydration
  • failure of body systems
  • harmful or violent behavior toward self or others
  • abuse by an over-stressed caregiver

Signs of worsening symptoms of AD include:

  • forgetting recent events or conversations
  • difficulty performing more than one task at a time
  • difficulty solving problems
  • taking longer to perform hard activities
  • language problems, such as trouble finding the name of familiar objects
  • misplacing items
  • getting lost on familiar routes
  • personality changes and loss of social skills
  • losing interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • flat mood
  • difficulty doing tasks that take some thought, but used to come easily, such as balancing a checkbook, playing complex games, and learning new information or routines
  • forgetting details about current events
  • forgetting events in their own life history and losing awareness of who they are
  • change in sleep patterns like waking up at night
  • difficulty reading or writing
  • poor judgment and loss of ability to recognize danger
  • using the wrong word, mispronouncing words, speaking in confusing sentences
  • withdrawing from social contact
  • having hallucinations, arguments, striking out, and violent behavior
  • suffering from delusions, depression, or agitation
  • difficulty doing basic tasks, like preparing meals, choosing proper clothing, and driving
  • difficulty swallowing both foods and liquids
  • incontinence

If the AD reaches its final stages, the complications include a complete inability to:

  • recognize family members
  • understand language
  • perform any of the basic activities of daily living, such as eating, dressing, going to the bathroom, and bathing 

Alzheimer’s Outlook

AD can be difficult and exhausting, both for the person with the disease and the caregiver. Symptoms may cause frustration and can get progressively worse. But there are treatment options. FDA-approved medication, alternative treatments, and a management plan from your doctor can help ease symptoms.

Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about the complications and symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

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