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Why do people die from Alzheimer's Disease?

03/24/2016

If Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes memory loss, how do people die from it?

Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Why?  Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder wherein brain cells physically deteriorate and die off.   This degeneration continues over time, affecting how the brain functions, until it gets to a point where people are unable to swallow, cough, or even breathe.

In these advanced stages of Alzheimer's, patients are at a high risk of choking, may stop eating, and become more susceptible to infection.  

While Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death, many experts believe that this number is understated since some deaths may be attributed to other causes.  For instance, people with Alzhiemer's and other diseases may die from complications of those illnesses, which become harder to manage once someone develops Alzheimer's.  Typical complications of Alzheimer's are heart attacks, thromboembolisms, strokes, kidney failure, and lung infections (due to aspiration of food).  Multi-organ failure is the most common cause of death in these patients.  

On average, the advanced stage of Alzheimer's lasts 1.5 to 2 years.  For about a quarter of Alzheimer's patients are in the advanced stage of Alzheimer's for 4-6 years.  


The NIH has further resources discussing Alzheimer's and end-of-life issues, or for further articles on Alzheimer's Disease, please visit our blog.