Complications of Dementia

Tuesday 1 December 2020
Memory loss

Table of Contents


I. What is Dementia?

II. Malnutrition

III. Wandering

IV. Infections

V. Hygiene Problems 


What is Dementia?

Dementia is a group of memory disorders that can severely affect a person’s everyday life. Some forms of dementia are reversible, while others, like Alzheimer’s, are degenerative. The exact diagnosis of dementia depends on its cause, but it typically occurs due to a loss of nerve cells and their brain connections.

You are at a greater risk of developing dementia if you are over 65, have a family history of the disease, or have Down syndrome. Research has found that those with Down syndrome are at a higher risk of early-onset Alzheimer’s once they reach middle age. [1] Some common symptoms of dementia can include:

  • Difficulty carrying out familiar daily tasks, like confusion over the correct change when shopping
  • Being confused about time and place
  • Mood changes
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory loss
  • Struggling to follow a conversation 

two people sitting in chairs as the sun sets

Several medications are available to assist in these symptoms and slow further damage of neuron connections in the brain. These medications include Namenda (memantine) (and Namenda solution), and Aricept (donepezil), which is also available in orally disintegrating tablets. If you are diagnosed with dementia, you may experience several complications as the illness progresses. Read on to learn more about the complications of dementia. [2] 

Malnutrition

You must continue to receive the proper nutrition once you are diagnosed with dementia. If you have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, poor nutrition can increase the risk of behavioral changes and dangerous weight loss. If dementia progresses, many patients may lose their appetite, which is a serious concern. In severe cases, an ongoing lack of interest in food can lead to premature death. You or your loved one may be experiencing changes in appetite due to:

  • A decreased sense of smell and taste.
  • New medications can cause appetite changes.
  • A lack of physical exercise can decrease appetite.
  • The person may not recognize the foods on their plate.
  • Poor-fitting dentures.

If you are caring for a dementia patient, you can do several things to boost their health. It is important to provide a balanced diet with whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean proteins. You may also want to limit the amounts of fats to help with heart health. Cutting down on refined sugars, processed foods, and high-sodium foods is also a smart idea for dementia patients.

meals organized in glass jars

If a dementia patient is not interested in food, there are several techniques you can implement to encourage eating:

  • Be flexible to food preferences.
  • Distinguish food from the plate (use white plates to contrast with colorful foods).
  • Keep the table setting simple.
  • Limit distractions.
  • Eat together and make meals social.
  • Give the person plenty of time to eat. [3]

Wandering

Alzheimer’s is a severe form of dementia that can result in wandering. Those with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) experience restlessness and sleeplessness, disturbing their normal sleeping habits. AD patients may be up late at night, increasing the chances of wandering out of their house. They may believe that they are late to work or have a meeting to attend.

Wandering can result in dangerous situations, like getting hit by a car and becoming lost. An AD patient often cannot find their way home, so a medical bracelet should be worn by AD patients at all times. This bracelet should have their name, address, phone number, and emergency contact. If this isn’t enough, you can install an alarm system, deadbolts, or bells on the door to make sure you know if anyone leaves the house. [4]

Infections 

If you or a loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s, the risk of choking or food aspiration is increased. Aspiration is when something enters the airway or lungs by accident, causing serious health problems like pneumonia.

It is important to avoid this complication when possible. You can do this by making sure that an AD patient eats and drinks while sitting up. Having their head elevated while eating increases the chances of food being swallowed properly. You can also cut up the food into bite-sized pieces to make swallowing easier. If a lung infection occurs, symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excess of phlegm

an older man eating a banana on an outdoor trail

Infections can become serious if left untreated, and it is essential to seek help if you believe an infection is present. If a dementia patient coughs after drinking, they may want to see a speech therapist learn how to drink without increasing their risk of aspiration. [4]

Hygiene Problems

One common sign of dementia is the inability to perform self-care tasks. They can forget how to perform personal care and hygiene activities. This can lead to irregular bathing and changing clothes. Along with forgetting to bathe, they may also forget to use the bathroom. [4] 

A person with dementia may forget where the bathroom is and use the bathroom in inappropriate places. If you care for a loved one with dementia, you can remind them to use the restroom and its location. It is also important to put them in easily removable clothes and install night lights to help them safely get to the bathroom at night. If they do soil their clothes, it is essential to immediately change them into clean clothes to prevent infection and skin rash.

If you notice that a loved one with dementia is not brushing their hair or showering regularly, you can encourage them to participate in these activities. You can add hygiene activities to their checklist for the day so they don’t forget. You can also break down bathing into several simple steps and layout all the materials they may need, like towels, soap, and shampoo. [5]

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.