The 3 Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

October 28, 2018
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Nobody wants to hear the news of a bad diagnosis. But among all of the distressing illnesses a person could experience, there is something particularly heartbreaking about Alzheimer’s Disease.

Watching a loved one slowly deteriorate and forget beautiful memories (or even forget who you are) comes with a 24/7 percolating sadness as caregivers and family members struggle to live with this new reality.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive disease that causes neuronal loss in the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for creating memories, learning, and emotions).

There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. The only thing loved ones of an affected patient can do is to obtain medication to slow its progress and brace themselves for the monumental challenges that are part and parcel of living with the disease.

Because there is no cure, it is important to seek supportive services as soon as possible. Having a support group is fundamental, since even the most well-intentioned friends and acquaintances can’t fully understand what life with Alzheimer’s entails, and it can feel very lonely, overwhelming, and isolatingReading about other people’s experiences may also be helpful.

Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is generally known to have three stages: Mild, moderate, and severe. However, when you’re acting as a caregiver, it can feel like a much larger spectrum.

It’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint the stage a patient is in, since stages may overlap.

1. Early Stage

During the early stages, the patient is mostly independent. They can carry on with their lives as usual: go to work, run errands, do household chores, and be social. However, you’ll start noticing with more frequency that they are forgetting easy to remember things, such as how they like their coffee (even though they’ve been taking it the same way for years) or where an object is located (even though the object is within their sight).

During the early-to-mid stages of Alzheimer’s, it is not uncommon for patients to exhibit behaviors of suspicion and accusation, accusing peers and loved ones of stealing, lying, and other hurtful claims. As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, it’s important to remember that these behaviors are not intentional and being able to respond properly to these situations is key.

Take a look at the following tips for handling and responding to these behaviors:

  • Don’t take offense to your loved one’s words or actions. As hurt as you may feel when your loved one accuses you of stealing, understand that your loved one’s actions are a result of the disease and that something else is causing your loved one to react the way he or she did. Tip: Reassure the patient that you care and try to understand the cause of his or her trouble.
  • Don’t place blame or argue. Regardless of the situation, it’s important to stay calm and never place blame on the patient. Instead, reassure your loved one that you understand and that you appreciate his or her opinion – without giving your own.
  • Respond with simple, short answers. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult for the patient to understand complex ideas. Be sure not to confuse your loved one by using simple thoughts and explanations when having a conversation.
  • Take notice of when and where your loved one becomes paranoid or suspicious. Doing so will help you determine whether certain environments may make these behaviors worse – and how you can prevent future episodes.
  • Join an Alzheimer’s caregiver support group. You may be surprised to learn how many caregivers like yourself have experienced the same troubles and found successful ways to manage the stress and worries that come with the job.

2. Middle Stage

This is typically the longest stage of Alzheimer’s and it could last for years. Symptoms tend to be much more noticeable and the patient will require assistance with daily tasks, such as getting dressed, making phone calls, or even recalling their own home address.

This is when patients forget the significant details of their lives and personal history. They’ll often forget who family members and friends are. They’re confused about where they are and who they’re with. They may also become paranoid or grow suspicious of people. It’s highly recommended that a caregiver remain close to them as much as possible since the risk of wandering and getting lost when left unattended is significantly high.

3. Late Stage

During the late stages of Alzheimer’s the patient needs around-the-clock care. At this point, they won’t be able to care for themselves. The patient loses the ability to walk or sit up or down. They’ll need someone to feed, bathe, and clothe them, as well as assist them in the bathroom. They’ll rarely speak, and they may have difficulty swallowing food.

What Is Early Onset Alzheimer’s?

While the vast majority of Alzheimer’s patients are diagnosed at age 65 or over, about 5% of patients start showing signs of the disease as early as 40 or 50 years of age.

Because it’s unusual to develop the illness so early in life, it’s common for symptoms to be misdiagnosed and attributed to stress or anxiety. However, while forgetting things every now and then is normal, pay attention to unusual forgetfulness, such as forgetting how to get home from work (even though they’ve been living in the same neighborhood for decades) or how to make a favorite recipe.

Other signs to pay attention to include the following:

  • Difficulty finding the right words in conversation
  • Becoming disoriented about place and time
  • Storing items in places that make no sense (like keys in the refrigerator)
  • Repeatedly asking the same question or making the same statement
  • Becoming less concerned with physical hygiene
  • Personality changes
  • Forgetting newly learned facts
  • Having problems at work over tasks they used to perform well
  • Trouble speaking and finding the right words
  • Talking about irrelevant subjects in the middle of a conversation
  • Poor judgment
  • Forgetting to pay bills
  • Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Vision problems (not seeing something that’s right in front of them, or seeing things that aren’t really there)
  • Forgetting the names of family members

Related Articles: 10 Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

All the symptoms above are indications that a person may have Alzheimer’s. The rate of dementia doubles every decade of life after age 60. That said, pay special attention if the person is younger than the typical patient. People with rare genetic changes linked to early onset Alzheimer’s begin experiencing symptoms as early as their 30s. Early detection is crucial to stall the rapid progress of the disease.

How to Care for a Person With Alzheimer’s?

If a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, family members may feel hopeless and helpless. However, it’s important to continue to express love and patience to the patient suffering from the condition. Even if they’re no longer able to speak, you can show your support by doing any of the following:

  • Sing to them
  • Play their favorite music
  • Read their favorite books out loud
  • Brush their hair
  • Look at old pictures together
  • Sit outside in nature together (even if it’s in your backyard)

It’s important to remember that there’s more to caregiving than simply tending to basic needs, such as feeding and hygiene. Attempting to connect with them is essential to alleviate some of their own feelings of isolation.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Alzheimer’s Home Care Services

At Care Options for Kids, we understand the struggles families face when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s and dementia. We also understand the value of respite care for hard-working caregivers. We refer loving and qualified caregivers to provide expert Alzheimer’s care – from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision.

If you are a caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease, let us help you. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a consultation. Together we can determine the right plan of action for your family.

If you or an aging loved one are considering home care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today (888) 592-5855.