My mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, but she seems to be declining rapidly. Doesn't Alzheimer's usually get worse slowly?
Answers from Ronald Petersen, M.D.
Yes, Alzheimer's disease usually worsens slowly. But its speed of progression varies, depending on a person's genetic makeup, environmental factors, age at diagnosis and other medical conditions.
Still, anyone diagnosed with Alzheimer's whose symptoms seem to be progressing quickly — or who experiences a sudden decline — should see his or her doctor. The doctor will look for complicating conditions or factors that can cause a rapid — but possibly reversible — progression of symptoms in someone with Alzheimer's disease.
Such conditions and factors could include:
- Infections, such as pneumonia, a urinary tract infection or a sinus infection
- Reaction to some prescription medications, such as anticholinergics, narcotic pain relievers, sedatives, corticosteroids and some antidepressants
- Fatigue or lack of sleep
- Social or environmental changes, such as moving or the presence of new medical care staff or family members
- Vitamin deficiencies, including B-12, thiamin, niacin and folate
- Thyroid problems, such as hypothyroidism
- Additional neurological conditions
Seek a prompt and thorough medical evaluation to determine the exact cause of rapidly progressing symptoms. Additional treatment may be required, and it may be possible to reduce or reverse symptoms.
Ronald Petersen, M.D.
Oct. 22, 2014
- Sosa-Ortiz AL, et al. Epidemiology of dementias and Alzheimer's disease. Archives of Medical Research. 2012;43:600.
- Schmidt C, et al. Rapidly progressive Alzheimer disease. Archives of Neurology. 2011;68:1124.
- Basics of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's Association. https://www.alz.org/. Accessed Aug. 24, 2014.
- Hori K, et al. Why does the progression of Alzheimer's disease accelerate? Annals of Psychiatry and Mental Health. 2014;2:1006.
- Petersen RC (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 6, 2014.