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I’ve Fallen! Is it Alzheimer’s?

Falls are common in people with Alzheimer's disease. In fact, those with Alzheimer’s are twice as likely to fall when compared to cognitively healthy elders. The rates of injury from falls are also higher among people with Alzheimer’s, who often have problems with forgetfulness and safety perception.

If an elder with memory problems suffers a fall, there’s a tendency to just dismiss the cause by saying that the person has Alzheimer’s. But Alzheimer’s is not the only health issue that can lead to memory loss, confusion and forgetfulness.

Cognitive problems can happen with several common health problems:

  • Bad reaction to certain medicines. Sleeping pills, antihistamines, sedatives, blood pressure pills, antidepressants and diabetes medications are just a few of the drugs that affect memory.
  • Emotional problems (such as anxiety and depression) can result in inattentiveness, disorientation and/or slowed responses.
  • Changes in the body. Repeat episodes of low blood sugar in diabetics, rapid changes in blood sodium levels, dehydration or anemia can cause cognitive issues.
  • Thyroid levels, such as low levels of thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) or very high levels of it (hyperthyroidism). The brain is affected when metabolism runs too slow or too fast. This can lead to forgetfulness and concentration problems.
  • Not eating enough healthy foods can lead to vitamin B1 deficiency (thiamine), vitamin B12 deficiency, pellagra (vitamin B3) or protein malnutrition.
  • Head injury, such as a concussion from a fall or accident. Sometimes a person can lose awareness after a fall and not realize it.
  • Common infections such as urinary tract infections, flu, pneumonia, etc.; memory problems may be the first sign of illness.
  • Chronic lack of sleep and excessive daytime fatigue. When an individual suffers from insomnia or frequent waking, memory can be impaired due to fatigue. Sleep is important to keep the mind alert.
  • Drinking too much alcohol. Chronic alcoholism causes impaired thinking that results in memory loss. Alcohol can also cause memory loss by interacting with other medicines. 

While Alzheimer’s may not be reversible, the above health conditions often go away with proper medical treatment. If an elder has trouble remembering things, bring the complaint to the doctor. Treating the underlying health problem may prevent falling.

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Rein Tideiksaar, Ph.D., PA-C (or Dr. Rein as he is commonly referred to) is the president of FallPrevent, LLC, Blackwood, N.J., a consulting company that provides educational, legal and marketing services related to fall prevention in the elderly. Dr. Tideiksaar is a gerontologist (healthcare professional who specializes in working with elderly patients) and a geriatric physician's assistant. Check out Dr. Rein’s professional profile on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dr-rein/6/759/592.

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