• By Dana Sparks

Alzheimer’s disease usually worsens slowly

November 26, 2019
a black and white photo of family members gathered around an elderly woman who is highlighted in the picture, looking a little bit sad and weak, perhaps sick and maybe having dementia or Alzheimer's

Question: My mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, but she seems to be declining rapidly. Doesn't Alzheimer's usually get worse slowly?

Answer: 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 health care provider. The health care provider will look for complicating conditions or factors that can cause a rapid — but possibly reversible — progression of symptoms in someone with Alzheimer's disease. The health care provider will also make sure that other causes of rapidly progressive dementia are excluded.

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
  • Depression
  • Thyroid problems, such as hypothyroidism
  • Additional neurological conditions
  • Autoimmune neurological disorders and paraneoplastic disorders, which are conditions that can cause rapidly progressive dementia

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.

This article is written by Dr. Jonathan Graff-Radford and Mayo Clinic staff. Find more health and medical information on mayoclinic.org.


Join a caregiver support network on Mayo Clinic Connect:

Please login or register to post a reply.