Researchers have found a link between common infections, such as a cold, stomach bug or urine infection and an increase in inflammation like reactions in the brain which can exacerbate dementia symptoms. Study results show that people who got an infection had twice the rate of memory loss as people without infections.
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Urinary tract infections are particularly worrisome, and they should be to most Alzheimer's caregivers. There is a growing body of scientific evidence indicating that infections can hasten memory loss in persons suffering from Alzheimer's.
Years ago, before we discovered that my mother was likely suffering from a series of rolling urinary tract infections, my mother woke up one morning and seemed to be completely disoriented. Obviously, this was disconcerting to me.
At the time I wrote:
My mother seemed completely disoriented. On Monday morning, I woke up when I heard my mother yelling, Bobby, Bobby, Bobby. She came down to my room and asked me if I was in bed for the night. It was 6:45 AM. When I tried to explain to her it was morning, she started whimpering, and started telling me about how she was losing it.
...Another time when she woke up she was just "out of it" in a way I had never seen before. She asked where are we? I told her home. Her response, is this where we live?
In both cases it turned out she was suffering from a urinary tract infection. In both cases she was disoriented, confused, and her memory was clearly effected.
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During the same period when my mother would act all out of sorts, I started to feel like I was getting sick. I felt achy, lethargic, I didn't feel like doing anything. At first, I thought I was getting sick. After a couple of days, I finally realized I was getting stressed out from dealing with the situation and the infection.
I can't tell you how many times an Alzheimer's caregiver has told me directly, or via email, a story about how their loved one suffering from Alzheimer's got sick and took a turn for the worse. Most of these stories revolve around infections.
Researchers have found a link between common infections, such as a cold, stomach bug or urine infection and an increase in inflammation like reactions in the brain which lead to an increased rate of cognitive decline. Study results show that people who got an infection had twice the rate of cognitive decline as people without infections.
Dr Susanne Sorensen, Head of Research, Alzheimer's Society says,
"It's important that older people, people with dementia and carers treat any infection seriously and seek medical help. Professionals treating people with Alzheimer's disease also have a responsibility to be vigilant in their efforts to treat infections in people with Alzheimer's disease early and effectively."
"In older people with dementia, urinary tract infections (UTIs) can cause sudden behavior changes rather than the common physical symptoms. Knowing the signs of UTIs in older people can help your loved one get treated early, before the infection leads to serious health problems." - Alzheimers.net
It is often difficult to know or discover when a person living with Alzheimer's is sick. Many times they can't tell us.
This requires vigilance on the part of the Alzheimer's caregiver.
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I learned to look very closely at my mothers' eyes. If they looked the least bit "glassy", I took her temperature. I was also very aware of how she felt when I held her hand or touched her forehead. If she felt warm in the least bit I started checking her temperature often.
Some people will give a person with a mild temperature Tylenol or something similar. This will likely lower their temperature. It might mask a mild fever and it might mask an infection.
When you are in this situation you need to ask yourself -- if I artificially lower their temperature am I going to "mask" a potential infection?
If you mask a potential infection, like a urinary tract infection, it is likely to worsen. This might result in a trip to the emergency room or hospital as opposed to a trip to the doctor. It might result in additional memory loss.
Use my rule of thumb when your stomach starts to bother you -- take the Alzheimer's patient to the doctor. You might feel like you are overreacting or you might feel that people will look at you like you are an alarmist. This is how I felt in the beginning.
I learned not to worry about how people would view me. I learned that the only important thing was to take very good care of my mother. If this required me to look foolish from time to time, so be it.
I came to a simple conclusion. It was better for me to look foolish than for my mother to suffer more rapid memory loss because I didn't take action when I should have.
My mother couldn't tell me when she was sick. Sometimes I knew, sometimes I had to guess. The only thing I know for sure is if I thought I she needed a doctor I would get to the doctor.
If this policy is good enough for the gander, its good enough for the goose.
Research reference: 'Systemic inflammation and disease progression in Alzheimer disease' Clive Holmes, C. Cunnigham, E.Zotova, J. Woolford, C. Dean, S. Kerr, D. Culliford, V.H. Perry. The study involved 300 people with mild to severe Alzheimer's disease.
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