Dementia fatigue is a term used to describe the decreased energy level that is fairly common in early Alzheimer’s. While people associate memory loss and confusion with the beginning stages of the disease, low energy is an equally challenging symptom to manage. Determining the cause and finding ways to safely improve it without increasing agitation can help you improve the quality of life for your senior loved one.
What Causes Low Energy for People with Alzheimer’s Disease?
There are a variety of factors that may be contributing to chronic fatigue for a person living with Alzheimer’s. They include:
• Depression: It is estimated that 40% of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease also suffer from depression. The physical and emotional challenge the disease creates is the likely culprit. A loss of independence, lower self-esteem, problems concentrating and involuntary lifestyle changes make it easy to understand why people with this disease find themselves becoming depressed.
• Sleep Problems: Another factor may be difficulty sleeping. Researchers believe the damage that Alzheimer’s does to the brain disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm. That, in turn, creates problems sleeping. Even though they may be physically exhausted, a person with Alzheimer’s may be unable to sleep for extended periods of time.
• Medication Side Effects: Some medications commonly prescribed for older adults can cause drowsiness and fatigue. Blood pressure medicines, statins, proton pump inhibitors (PPI), benzodiazepines, antidepressants and antihistamines are all known to contribute to excessive sleepiness.
• Poor Nutrition: Lack of a balanced diet and too many sugary foods can lead to vitamin deficiencies. Being deficient in vitamins D or B can cause fatigue, as can low levels of copper, iron or magnesium.
• Hypothyroidism: Underactive Thyroid disease becomes more common with aging. If your senior loved one hasn’t had their thyroid tested, talk with their primary care physician about it. You might find they are living with hypothyroidism.
Helping a Senior with Alzheimer’s Disease Overcome Chronic Fatigue
Fortunately, many of the underlying conditions that may be contributing to low energy and chronic fatigue can be treated. Here are a few steps you can take to help a senior loved one with Alzheimer’s disease improves their energy level:
1. Schedule an appointment with their primary care physician. The doctor can help evaluate your aging family member for problems such as iron deficiency anemia, vitamin D deficiency, and thyroid disease. A family physician can also assess them for depression and make recommendations for treatment. And, if you suspect a medication may be the cause of their fatigue, talk with the doctor to see if there are alternatives that might not contribute to energy problems.
2. Try to adopt a Mediterranean style approach to meal planning. Focus on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, olive oil, lean meats and fish. Work on eliminating pasta, white flour products, pastries and sugary drinks. This approach will help you improve your aging loved one’s nutritional intake while keeping their blood sugar stable.
3. Investigate methods for managing the agitation and anxiety that often lead to sleepless nights for a person with Alzheimer’s disease and for their caregiver. The Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Center has a variety of information and resources dedicated to helping families who are struggling with these behaviors.
4. Create an inviting sleep environment at bedtime. Many people with Alzheimer’s wake up more often and stay awake longer during the night. Click here for tips to promote a restful night.
We hope this information helps you better manage your loved one’s battle with fatigue and improves their quality of life.