Can You Die From Dementia And How Does It Kill You
By Julia Thomas
Updated August 13, 2019
Reviewer Lisa Cooper
For many, dementia is unfathomable. The idea of losing your memories and ability to function as a normal human is scary for many. Also, the fact that your death is approaching. If you have been diagnosed with dementia, know someone who has, or is just curious about the subject, you may wonder how a person with dementia dies. Since dementia causes the breakdown of your cognition, you may wonder if death is caused due to you losing so much of your brainpower.
That is not exactly the case. Theoretically, dementia could damage your brain so much that it damages the part of your brain that makes you breathe, causing your death. But for most, if not all patients, this is not the reason why they met death. Instead, death by dementia is due to the symptoms it creates, not because of the disease itself.
Death From Dementia Symptoms
With some diseases, you end up dying not because of the disease itself, but from a complication related to the disease. For example, if you have cancer, it may not be cancer itself that kills you, but instead a bout of pneumonia. However, cancer weakened your immune system, so many will still say that you died from cancer.
The same applies to dementia. Many of the deaths due to it are ultimately not caused by dementia itself but from a symptom. These include:
Pneumonia is one of the biggest reasons a person with dementia dies. Pneumonia deals with inflamed, infected lungs, which may be filled with fluid. For adults, pneumonia is quite treatable. However, for young children and senior citizens, it's quite fatal. One reason for the fatality is because dementia patients have poor immune systems, making it harder to fight off.
Quite often, the pneumonia is because of aspiration pneumonia. This is when food or drink goes down your windpipe instead of your esophagus. This leads to infected or damaged lungs, which can turn into pneumonia.
Falling can be deadly for a senior citizen. Their bodies are frailer, so a fall can lead to broken bones or even death. The risk of a fall increases with dementia. Dementia can affect your balance and ability to walk, so it's not uncommon to see those with dementia struggling to stand up. If your loved one has dementia, they need to be monitored at all times. If you let them wander off for just a few minutes, the fall can happen, and this can injure them at best, kill them at worst. Don't let them fall, and instead take care of them at all times.
Falling is the cause of almost all fractures in the elderly, and if an older adult falls, there's a strong chance they will fall again within the next six months. This can increase their chances of death.
What another reason can lead to death is because of hospital stays. They may stay at the hospital for a long period, which can increase their chances of dying from other diseases.
For hip fractures, death may occur for 25 percent of all cases within six months.
Sometimes, the falls don't cause any injuries. However, almost half of seniors, especially those who have dementia, might not be able to get up without help. If they stay fallen, this can lead to serious health consequences. Their muscle cells break down shortly after, and they may die from dehydration or pneumonia.
As mentioned earlier, some dementia patients can develop a form of pneumonia caused by the food going down the wrong tube. During the late stages of dementia, one may have trouble swallowing. Foods are hard to keep down, along with a drink. Sometimes, even your spit is hard to swallow. Choking on food can lead to death, especially while unmonitored. In the late stages, a caregiver should feed and supervise the dementia patient during meal time.
During the early stages of dementia, especially when one has just been diagnosed with it, there may be an increased risk of suicide. Depression is an early sign of dementia. Also, there are some who would rather end their lives while they are still mentally sound because they can't imagine their cognition declining. If a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, look for any signs of suicidal tendencies.
Bedsores are sores created when there's prolonged pressure on a certain part of your body. They are quite common in nursing homes or in a situation where someone is bedridden. In late-stage dementia, the patient will find it hard to get out of bed, leading to bedsores.
Bedsores are treatable when discovered early, and a competent nursing home and caretaker should be able to prevent and treat them. However, if left untreated, they can develop into something far worse.
Let's briefly look at the stages of bedsores.
Stage one involves the slightly red skin or darker skin that is a bit tender. The bedsores may feel hotter or colder than the skin surrounding it.
Stage two involves the damaged skin. It may be yellow or reddish and have blister-like qualities.
Both stages can be painful but can be treated easily. However, the next two stages are where the problems arise.
Stage three involves exposed fat and deep wounds. There may be dead tissue, and it will almost look like a crater for the observer. Stage three is still treatable, but time is running out, and the caretaker should fix the problem as soon as possible.
Stage four, the bedsore is so deep that it has exposed the bones and muscle underneath it. This involves going to the outer layer of skin, and because of the exposure, it can lead to death or serious injury. No nursing home should ever let their patients have bedsores this severe.
Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in the US, and Alzheimer's can increase the risk of stroke. Alzheimer's can make the brain bleed, which leads to the risk of stroke. When taking care of a patient with Alzheimer's or any form of dementia, monitor them. Sadly, many of the signs of a stroke could be mistaken for common effects of Alzheimer's.
Heart disease is another big reason why people die, and the brain bleeds dementia patients may increase the risk of heart attacks. Like stroke, the patient's heart should be monitored to prevent a heart attack before it happens.
Any Other Infection
As mentioned before, those who have dementia are more prone to infections and other diseases. This could lead to you dying from many types of diseases that may have had no long-term effects if you were healthy. The first signs of any infection should be fought so that the person with dementia can live longer.
With dementia, it's hard to tell what could kill you. The smallest fall, the most harmless infection, becomes deadly thanks to dementia. As said before, dementia itself rarely, if at all, kills you. Instead, the many complications that may arise from it may be the downfall of many.
How Long Until Death?
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a form of dementia, you may wonder how long it will be until the person dies. There is no answer to this question. The prognosis of dementia will differ depending on the person. Some patients may reach their later stages within a few years. Other people may take over a decade, sometimes longer, before they reach the final stages of their dementia. Every case of dementia is unique, so there is no way to know when, and how, they will die.
Rising In Fatality
Many causes of death, such as heart disease or cancer, has seen a decline. As technology marches on, treating patients who have these diseases is easier than ever. Now, dementia, particularly Alzheimer's, is now a rising threat. Alzheimer's has no cure, no treatment, or no way to prevent it. It's still a mysterious disease with a cause that is not fully understood.
It's a bit of a catch-22 in our society. As we eradicate many diseases, we start living longer. But as we age, we are more likely to get dementia. This is a new problem we must face as a society.
Living with dementia, or knowing a loved one who has it, can be a terrifying experience. If you've recently been diagnosed with dementia, you may be uncertain about your future. If you're taking care of someone with dementia, your mental health may be at risk. Or you are unsure how to balance taking care of your loved one with your own life. In both cases, talking to a therapist can help.
For patients with dementia, they can get the motivation to reach their goals before the disease takes over. For the loved ones, they'll learn how they can balance taking care of their loved ones with other aspects of their lives.