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Alzheimer's Disease

Death From Complications of Alzheimer`s

06/03/2009

Question:

It was the first diaper change of the morning. To soothe my mother`s restlessness I started to sing. She immediately joined in. After the diaper change, she vomited unexpectedly and before I could turn her onto her side, she had inhaled. . . her breathing was a combination of gurgles, gasping, and groans. Is it unusual for someone with Alzheimer`s to drown in their own vomit? It seems as if she would still be around a little longer had I been able to clear her airway.

Answer:

Dear Family: When I read the question you submitted to the NetWellness Ask-an-Expert site I was immediately touched by your tenderness in the care for your mother. The sweetness of singing with her to help ease her restlessness is demonstration of a caregiver who understands that Alzheimer's may deteriorate the memory, but not the soul. And it sounds like you recognize that persons with this disease can often enjoy the simple acts of love we share with them.

I do understand that losing your mother so quickly can be difficult, but I would encourage you to cherish the memories of her. Individuals with Alzheimer's disease and other degenerative dementias can experience sudden death because of the physical and neurologic debilitation that inevitably takes place, and families may feel tremendous grief over a death that occurs so quickly.

I would advise you to talk to a counselor or a minister to help you through this time of loss. Looking back and asking "what if..." can only compound your grief and not allow you to acknowledge all the good care that you provided for your mother when she wasn't able to care for herself. Take care. In sympathy.

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Response by:

Rebecca A Davis, RN, LISW Rebecca A Davis, RN, LISW
Clinical Research Nurse of Neurology
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University