April 29th, 2010
01:12 PM ET

What kills a person with Alzheimer’s?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From CNN.com blog commenter, Dennis:

“How does Alzheimer's eventually take a person’s life? I had two grandparents with this disease and both died of other things. Can you explain?”


This is an important point, Dennis. Alzheimer's does not kill a person directly. You're not going to find Alzheimer's, for example, as a cause of death on a death certificate.

What happens as the disease progresses is controlling a lot of your body's functions simply becomes more difficult; things like eating, going to the bathroom, walking, even swallowing become a problem. And if you're not eating and you're not moving around, infections can set in. Blood clots can form as well. Your immune system starts to get weaker, putting your body at higher risk for infection – an example of this is pneumonia.

So basically the complications from Alzheimer’s disease are what ultimately take a person's life. I hope this helps.

Filed under: Alzheimer's • Expert Q&A

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. pat hayes

    Is dementia the same as alzhemiers. How do they differ?

    April 29, 2010 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Clay

    In answer to Pat's question: Alzheimer's is a type of dementia. There are many different forms of dementia but Alzheimer's disease is the most common. Dementia itself is just the term used when various symptoms are present such as confusion, disorientation, loss of memory etc... If you have additional questions Id reccomended the Alzheimers Association website alz.org/pa

    April 29, 2010 at 14:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Maggie Perkins

    My mother's cause of death on her death certificate was Alzheimer's disease. She did have most of the problems associated with it and probably died of pneumonia due to inhaling of water. She wouldn't have had these problems if she didn't have Alzheimer's.

    According to my Alzheimer's support group, dementia is like the umbrella and Alzheimer's, strokes, Parkinsons disease, and various other things are under the umbrella.

    April 29, 2010 at 21:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Valerie

    Alzheimers is a form of dementia. There are different forms of demetia. My mother had Parkinson's related dementia but she did not have Alzheimers.
    In other words, if you have dementia it doesn't necessarily mean you have Alzheimers.
    I think Alheimers is the most serious and most debilitating form or dementia.
    A good resource for reading up on dementia is webmd.com

    April 29, 2010 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Malcolm

    My grandmother's death certificate listed "dementia" as the cause of her death, although it was almost certainly Alzheimer's that she had (as opposed to Parkinson's, stroke, etc.).

    In actual fact, she choked to death, but it seemed that the hospital was trying to evade responsibility.

    May 6, 2010 at 00:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Mark MSW

    Another AVOIDABLE contributing factor to the demise of both women and men with AZ is UTI (Urinary Tract Infection). It is very important to maintain the cleanliness of these folks and be mindful of the symptoms in order to catch them in time.

    May 8, 2010 at 12:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Anne Shirley

    My mother passed away last week. She was diagnosed with Alzheimers about 7 years ago. We went through the " long " good bye, as it progressively chipped away at her until there was nothing left but a shell of a person. She did not have pneumonia, or UTI. She had developed a sore on her heel that started as a blister, broke, and became infected. I don't know if this caused her death, or if her body just gave out. But to see dwindle away, was the saddest, and cruelest thing I have ever seen.

    July 21, 2010 at 08:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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    August 28, 2011 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
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    December 12, 2011 at 21:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Alice

    The article states that we won't find Alzheimer's on the birth certificate, but that is exactly what was listed as my father's primary cause of death. I was not expecting that to be on his death certificate. He had marvelous coping skills and was 94 years old. He went downhill with his confusion in just a couple months. In looking back, I see what was going on, but we didn't realize it was Alzheimer's until it was too late for medicine to help him.

    November 1, 2012 at 22:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Sharon Choate

    My mother's cause of death was listed as fatal heart rhythm caused by end stage Alzheimer's Disease. The doctor explained that if the brain which is the control center of the body is not working correctly, it effects everything. If one has heart problems they can worsen,

    May 1, 2013 at 23:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Bethsheba Yeshurun

    My mother-n-law has demtia aka alzheimer disease and her short term memory is completely gone. So now she doesn't want to do anything far as prolonging her longterm memory, all she want to do is walk around fusing and talking to herself all day long. Then when you tell her to settle down and do something positive with yourself so goes into a defense stage and all hell brakes out. this is very hard because I'm home with her everyday and she's giving me the problem. Until she goes into a day program I'm trying to keep my sanity.

    March 25, 2014 at 16:08 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.