Common Complications of Alzheimer’s Disease

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

As a person with Alzheimer’s ages, symptoms will change and often worsen. In addition to symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, a person may have other health problems. Being able to identify these is important, especially because the person with Alzheimer’s may be confused or unable to explain what they are feeling.1,2

There are a few common health complications that people with Alzheimer’s disease deal with. Someone with Alzheimer’s can have any of the health problems that someone without Alzheimer’s would. But there are some specific issues to watch out for throughout their life.1,2


Having a fever means the person’s body temperature is 2 degrees or more above their normal temperature. Someone with Alzheimer’s getting a fever can mean they:1

  • Have an infection
  • Are dehydrated
  • Are dealing with heat stroke
  • Are having constipation

To take the temperature of someone with Alzheimer’s, use a digital thermometer. They may bite down on a glass thermometer. To avoid fever, make sure the person is getting enough fluids and that they are in a comfortable environment. Good hygiene is also important – treat cuts and scrapes immediately to avoid infection.1,2

Flu and pneumonia

Having the flu can lead to pneumonia, which is an infection in the lungs. People with Alzheimer’s are more likely to get the flu or pneumonia. In later stages, people with Alzheimer’s are at risk for aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia occurs when someone breathes food or drink into their lungs.1-3

It is vital for a person with Alzheimer’s to get their yearly flu vaccine. They may also be able to receive a pneumonia vaccine every 5 years.1,2

The flu or pneumonia may cause:1

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Aches and pains
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing


Incontinence is when someone has difficulty controlling their bladder or bowels. This can lead to leaking urine, trouble emptying the bladder, or soiling underwear or sheets. If your loved one with Alzheimer's is experiencing incontinence, talk to a doctor. The doctor may be able to identify and treat the cause of the incontinence.1

Incontinence and problems using the toilet (sometimes called "toileting") are common, especially in later-stage Alzheimer’s. Someone with Alzheimer’s may need to be walked to the restroom or helped through the process of toileting.2

Setting a schedule for restroom use and limiting liquids 2 hours before bedtime may help with incontinence. You can also use adult disposable briefs and bed pads to protect underwear and sheets from accidents.2


Alzheimer’s disease may cause someone to have trouble walking or keeping their balance. The person may not be able to perceive their surroundings correctly. They may struggle with understanding distances (depth perception). This causes a higher risk of falls.1

To reduce the risk of falling, make sure spaces are well-lit and free of clutter and throw rugs. Steer the person to using sturdy furniture with arms. Put up grab bars in the bathroom so the person can steady themselves. Make sure they are wearing shoes with good traction.1

Malnutrition and dehydration

Everyone’s body needs a certain amount of food and water to function well. Alzheimer’s can cause a person to need less food. But a person with Alzheimer's may also forget to eat or lose their appetite. Dehydration can come up for the same reason – the person does not feel thirsty or forgets to drink.1,2

Weight loss can be an issue if the person is not getting enough nutrition. Dehydration can cause:1,2

  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Rapid heartbeat

If you are a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer's, monitor their eating and drinking to make sure they are getting enough nourishment and fluids. It may help to:1,2

  • Prepare their favorite foods
  • Offer easier-to-swallow soft foods if necessary
  • Encourage them to drink
  • Offer fruit juice, gelatin, or soup if they have trouble swallowing water

If your loved one starts losing weight or showing signs of dehydration, let a doctor know so they can help.

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