August 27, 2010
How might other health problems affect people with Alzheimer’s?
Another reason for using medications in people who have Alzheimer’s disease is to reduce what is sometimes called “excess disability,” which refers to the increase in Alzheimer’s-like symptoms that are actually due to other illnesses. These co-occurring conditions may worsen the behavioral and cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s and should not be overlooked or minimized.
For example, if someone with Alzheimer’s also has depression, he or she may be less socially involved. A person suffering from arthritis pain may be more likely to scream out or wander without apparent explanation. Urinary tract infections may increase wandering and night disturbances due to the increased need to urinate. People with Alzheimer’s may not be able to communicate such health problems to others, so their reactions may be interpreted as part of the Alzheimer’s disease process. With proper treatment of the underlying cause, such behaviors may improve or resolve.
In addition, there are a number of other health conditions that can affect cognition and therefore may compound the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. These conditions need to be identified and treated.
What should be done if other health problems are present?
People with Alzheimer’s should receive ongoing medical care to identify and, if necessary, receive treatment for specific health problems. For example, the depressed may benefit from antidepressants; those with arthritis might need to take anti-inflammatory drugs for pain relief; and frequent urinary tract infections might require treatment with antibiotics to address the underlying infection. Correcting these disorders often greatly improves mental function and, often, behavioral issues.