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

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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.