Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease. Over a period of many years, symptoms will slowly become more severe, and a person’s overall condition will worsen. Each person experiences a different progression of symptoms over a different stretch of time, though many will experience slow-moving Alzheimer’s that takes years to progress. For some, it may seem that symptoms are progressing rapidly, and this can be scary for caretakers or loved ones who may come to feel that they are watching someone slip away.
However, Alzheimer’s disease is especially complicated, and there are several factors or complications that may be at play when a person’s symptoms increase. Sudden declines in overall condition are usually temporary, and are typically caused by a number of identifiable and correctable factors. If treated quickly, a person may revert back to the state that they were in before the symptoms flared up, and they will continue a slower progression of the disease from that point.
Each person is different, and the mind is the most complicated subject of study in all of medicine. As scientists strive to understand Alzheimer’s disease, they are able to identify factors that cause patients to experience sudden declines in health. Genetics, environment, and age of the patient all have been identified as factors that affect the overall speed of Alzheimer’s progression. Beyond that, doctors may be able to identify complicating factors that are speeding up the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, and the best thing to do in any case is to communicate with doctors and search for ways to reverse or stop progressing symptoms.
Reactions to Medication
Treating Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult, even for doctors who prescribe medications. It is possible that a prescription medication may result in adverse effects in any given individual. This is especially true for those who are taking medication for more than one disease, as prescription medications are known to interact with one another in unusual ways. Alzheimer’s patients must be cautious when using over-the-counter medications, as these drugs can interact with prescription medications, as well.
Prescription drugs fall into several broad categories, and those that impact the brain or the way that a brain communicates with the body often cause problems for patients with Alzheimer’s. Anticholinergics are a class of neurotransmitter inhibitors—drugs blocking signals to the brain—that have been linked to greater risk of developing dementia. Similarly, narcotic pain relievers and sedatives may inhibit brain functioning and cause symptoms to worsen. Corticosteroids are often prescribed for inflammation, but can have a negative impact on the brain. Likewise, antidepressants may treat depression at the expense of a faster Alzheimer’s progression.
It is not unusual for the body to become infected; many individuals will experience some form of pneumonia, sinus, or urinary tract infection in their lifetime. For patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, these common infections can cause Alzheimer’s symptoms to worsen significantly. Luckily, once the infection is treated and the body is brought back to a healthy normal, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s will follow suit and reverse temporarily.
Most infections can be treated with broad spectrum antibiotics, but it is always important to check in with a primary care physician before attempting treatment. It may be difficult for a person with Alzheimer’s to properly describe what they are feeling, and in some cases, a person may make no complaints until the infection has progressed considerably. Try and monitor the general state of the individual before an infection is allowed to worsen.
Sleep is a critical component of mental health for individuals without Alzheimer’s. Without rest, the mind begins to slip and lose certain functional abilities. After 48 hours of no sleep, a person is considered functionally inebriated. In a person with Alzheimer’s sleep and fatigue can greatly exacerbate symptoms. Many of the functional symptoms related to Alzheimer’s can come to a complete stop, and it is important if this is the case for the patient to get rest.
Typically, symptoms of sleep deprivation will go away after one or two days of consistently getting good sleep. Getting good sleep does not always mean sleeping longer. The body rests in cycles, and learning how to get your body into a rhythm is the only way to ensure proper rest. Most adults fall into a pattern of sleep that lasts for between 7 to 9 hours of sleep, and it is important to maintain a consistent bed time and waking time. It is more important to maintain a consistent waking time, as the body can adjust to reasonable changes in bed time easier than it can adjust to different waking times.
Many people feel stress from their environment, from sudden change, or from big changes. Stress is a chemical and hormonal response from within the body, and those hormones can affect the brain in unique ways depending on the individual. For those living with Alzheimer’s, an excess amount of stress can overwhelm the mind and cause certain symptoms to progress more quickly than they ordinarily would. Stress management can help Alzheimer’s patients prevent stressful situations from overwhelming them.
Dynamic changes in particular may affect Alzheimer’s patients. Depending on how far the Alzheimer’s patient has progressed, a change in environment or relationship may cause a person to fall into a pattern of confusion, as they question the same change over and over again. It is important to be patient and help an Alzheimer’s patient understand the change that is or has taken place, and after a time, symptoms may regress.
Depression and Anxiety
Mental health is a growing concern in the world at large, and it is possible for those recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to fall into depression or anxiety. These are two separate diagnoses that can affect each individual differently, especially when compounded with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Drugs are commonly prescribed for anxiety and depression, but they can be equally damaging to a person with Alzheimer’s, adding on to the burden of symptoms.
At the same time, anxiety and depression are both treatable diseases. If the individual is willing, there are several therapies available that do not require drug use or prescription. Preemptive measures can also be taken, as depression and anxiety do not strike all at once, but are rather the accumulation of unprocessed or unmanaged stress and significant change.
Finally, the sudden progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms may be due to another condition. Conditions of the thyroid can lead to more severe Alzheimer’s symptoms, and are more likely to occur than any neurological problems. An overly active or underactive thyroid can throw the body into a hormonal imbalance. Luckily, these can be corrected, and will typically result in the remission of sudden onset Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Neurological disorders and paraneoplastic disorders can also be the cause sudden progression. The only way to rule out any other neurological condition is to perform an MRI scan. Neurological conditions may advance Alzheimer’s irreversibly, and can quickly lead to dementia. Only prompt action and additional treatment can ensure that the symptoms do not cause severe permanent damage to the brain, and such conditions are not always treatable.
Alzheimer’s is not curable, for the time being, but it is manageable. Ensuring that the individual is allowed the most mentally stable environment will assist them in coping with and slowing the progression of the disease. While all of the above techniques may reverse the symptoms that arise suddenly, they cannot permanently reverse symptoms, nor can they permanently halt the progression of the disease. Still, as with other chronic illnesses, the individual can learn to maintain themselves and cope with the disease while surrounded by loved ones and support.