It’s the last piece of news you wanted to hear when sitting with your Mom at the doctor as He delicately explains how her confusion and slight memory loss are the signs and symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease. Your arm is already around her as you pull her in even tighter trying to be strong for her all while your own emotions are erratic and the pain of the news you’ve just heard slowly sinks in. It’s terminal. There is no cure. You look into her eyes and tell her it’s going to be ok; that you will take care of her and that she has nothing to worry about. All the while you have no idea how to prepare for what’s ahead.

The A.D.A.M Medical Encyclopedia describes Alzheimer’s as a form of Dementia. “Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. Alzheimer’s disease (AD), is one form of dementia that gradually gets worse over time. It affects memory, thinking, and behavior. Memory impairment, as well as problems with language, decision-making ability, judgment, and personality, are necessary features for the diagnosis.”

There are 7 stages that the disease typically follows as it develops in the patient:

Stage 1: No impairment (normal function)
The person does not experience any memory problems. An interview with a medical professional does not show any evidence of symptoms of dementia.

 

Stage 2: Very mild cognitive decline (may be normal age-related changes or earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease)
The person may feel as if he or she is having memory lapses — forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects. But no symptoms of dementia can be detected during a medical examination or by friends, family or co-workers.
Stage 3: Mild cognitive decline (early-stage Alzheimer’s can be diagnosed in some, but not all, individuals with these symptoms)
Friends, family or co-workers begin to notice difficulties. During a detailed medical interview, doctors may be able to detect problems in memory or concentration. Common stage 3 difficulties include:

  • Noticeable problems coming up with the right word or name
  • Trouble remembering names when introduced to new people
  • Having noticeably greater difficulty performing tasks in social or work settings Forgetting material that one has just read
  • Losing or misplacing a valuable object
  • Increasing trouble with planning or organizing
Stage 4: Moderate cognitive decline
(Mild or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease)

At this point, a careful medical interview should be able to detect clear-cut symptoms in several areas:

  • Forgetfulness of recent events
  • Impaired ability to perform challenging mental arithmetic — for example, counting backward from 100 by 7s
  • Greater difficulty performing complex tasks, such as planning dinner for guests, paying bills or managing finances
  • Forgetfulness about one’s own personal history
  • Becoming moody or withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations
Stage 5: Moderately severe cognitive decline
(Moderate or mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease)

Gaps in memory and thinking are noticeable, and individuals begin to need help with day-to-day activities. At this stage, those with Alzheimer’s may:

  • Be unable to recall their own address or telephone number or the high school or college from which they graduated
  • Become confused about where they are or what day it is
  • Have trouble with less challenging mental arithmetic; such as counting backward from 40 by subtracting 4s or from 20 by 2s
  • Need help choosing proper clothing for the season or the occasion
  • Still remember significant details about themselves and their family
  • Still require no assistance with eating or using the toilet
Stage 6: Severe cognitive decline
(Moderately severe or mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease)

Memory continues to worsen, personality changes may take place and individuals need extensive help with daily activities. At this stage, individuals may:

  • Lose awareness of recent experiences as well as of their surroundings
  • Remember their own name but have difficulty with their personal history
  • Distinguish familiar and unfamiliar faces but have trouble remembering the name of a spouse or caregiver
  • Need help dressing properly and may, without supervision, make mistakes such as putting pajamas over daytime clothes or shoes on the wrong feet
  • Experience major changes in sleep patterns — sleeping during the day and becoming restless at night
  • Need help handling details of toileting (for example, flushing the toilet, wiping or disposing of tissue properly)
  • Have increasingly frequent trouble controlling their bladder or bowels
  • Experience major personality and behavioral changes, including suspiciousness and delusions (such as believing that their caregiver is an impostor)or compulsive, repetitive behavior like hand-wringing or tissue shredding
  • Tend to wander or become lost

 

Stage 7: Very severe cognitive decline
(Severe or late-stage Alzheimer’s disease)

In the final stage of this disease, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, to carry on a conversation and, eventually, to control movement. They may still say words or phrases.At this stage, individuals need help with much of their daily personal care, including eating or using the toilet. They may also lose the ability to smile, to sit without support and to hold their heads up. Reflexes become abnormal. Muscles grow rigid. Swallowing impaired.

Help! What do I do?

–          Don’t fight this battle alone. Sign up for one of the Alzheimer’s Association groups in your area to talk with other family members who are going through the same or similar circumstances.

–          Talk with an In-Home Care provider like Total Care Connections to discuss how the possibly of bringing in a Memory Care Trained Caregiver can provide the much needed relief and rest for you and your family throughout the week.

No one can truly prepare to fight the battle of Alzheimer’s disease. But understanding it, finding support in others who can empathize, and having the help from a trusted memory care provider can be the help you desperately need and the support that carries you through.