The awful truth…

How does Alzheimer’s eventually lead to death, especially if someone with the disease has a caregiver to feed and clean them? What happens in the body to cause death? Or is it mainly caused by complications and other factors?

Dear Unsure,
This is truly a medical question and one you should ask your physician for a medical answer. I have a Master’s Degree and truly focus on how to enjoy the time you have with a person with Alzheimer’s disease. So, I am going to give a truly “lay person” not a professional answer. It is my understanding that the ultimate cause of death is the complete shutting down of the brain that can manifest itself in many ways. I often explain the brain as the computer and if it shuts down nothing runs and thus the body dies. I attended an Alzheimer’s Association conference probably in early 2000 and one of the speakers there quoted some statistics that I feel certain have been updated by the Alzheimer’s Association which is another excellent resource to get an answer to this question. At that time they said that probably only about 6% of the people with Alzheimer’s actually went to the end stages of the disease process. Included in that statistic along with the brain shut down was another explanation that stated that one of the ways the brain shut-down was manifested was in the inability for the person to swallow. Even with a food tube they were still able to swallow saliva and that could cause aspiration which would lead to an aspiration pneumonia and death. I have also heard it stated at many meetings and in a variety of things that I have read through the years that the most common item written on the death certificate usually along with the Alzheimer’s Diagnosis is terminology that describes infection. Pneumonia would be one of those items and another would be sepsis which can be caused from something like an undiagnosed urinary tract infection or a bowel disorder. I am just passing on what would be used in a court as “hearsay” with the hope that it will help you to understand some of the more technical explanations. It at least gives you a few items to use as questions for a medical professional that can explain or even discount the information I have provided for the answer to your question. It appears that you have already heard some of the things I have mentioned as they seem to be a part of your question.