Older adults oftentimes show symptoms of a condition called geriatric rhinitis, which is an inflammation or irritation of the mucous membrane inside the nose. This inflammation caused by viruses, bacteria, irritants or allergens produces large amounts of mucous, resulting in a runny nose or postnasal drip.
As we age, the nasal membrane atrophies, and there is a recession of the collagen fibers and loss of elastic fibers in the skin. The weakening or thinning of these connective tissues in the nose can cause the tip of the nose to droop which restricts airflow and can cause nasal obstructions. Some of the symptoms of geriatric rhinitis in addition to a runny nose include loss of smell, crustiness in the nostrils and a dry cough.
A runny nose is very common in individuals with Lewy body dementia and Parkinson's disease, and common in the later stages of Alzheimer's disease. Some medications can lead to this condition.
However, a runny nose can also be a symptom of a wide variety of mild to serious disorders, even depression.
A cold or sinusitis are typical causes of a drippy nose, as is irritation. And some people's noses are more susceptible to irritants.
A caregiver can observe if someone's runny nose is caused by environmental irritants, such as pollution, dust, tobacco smoke, perfume, scented candles or oils. Central heating can exacerbate the condition. If not an environmental factor, a runny nose could be caused by allergies to pets, a new detergent or fabric softener, a new soap or shampoo, or foods.
Geriatric rhinitis is a familiar and bothersome condition in aging adults and can cause headaches and diminished concentration, which can often be magnified in individuals with dementia-related illnesses.
Some individuals have chronic nose drips that have no underlying cause. This condition is called nonallergic rhinitis. Individuals typically sneeze a lot and experience nasal congestion, symptoms much like hay fever. However, the individual is not allergic to anything. Though little can be done about this condition, the caregiver can identify triggers that could possibly make the nasal drip worse, such as certain odors, medications, changes in diet or food, and the weather.
A good rule of thumb to treat a runny nose is to always keep the individual's nasal passages moist. You should consult a physician before using any type of nasal spray or medication. A room humidifier for the individual with the chronic runny nose is also suggested.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.