If you have a family member with Alzheimer’s, you probably know that the disease worsens with time. Individuals with Alzheimer’s live an average of four to eight years following a diagnosis, but the progression of the disease can vary.
The disease typically advances through three general phases — mild, moderate and severe — although symptoms that characterize each phase can overlap. What should you understand about each stage of Alzheimer’s to provide your family member with the best possible care?
Brain alterations related to Alzheimer’s can start years before the disease presents clinically. At this point, your family member or friend may not show any outward symptoms, and the disease can be detected only with medical tests like a PET scan.
In the early stage of noticeable disease, individuals with Alzheimer’s may continue to maintain independent functioning. The individual may still participate in social activities, drive and even work.
However, the person in early-stage Alzheimer’s may begin to notice lapses in memory. He or she may have trouble recalling words or finding frequently used belongings. At this point, medical professionals often can begin to spot problems with concentration or memory, including remembering names, word finding, losing objects, and forgetting recently read material
In the early stage, Alzheimer’s still may not interfere with an individual’s ability to live independently. However, as the disease continues to progress to mild cognitive impairment, you may notice additional symptoms and signs that become worse over time.
Your family member may forget appointments, recent events and conversations. He or she may misjudge the time required to complete a certain task and may begin having problems with judgment.
Consider that not everyone who suffers from mild cognitive impairment has Alzheimer’s disease; a doctor can help you determine the source of any memory and concentration challenges.
Moderate or Middle Stage
The moderate stage of Alzheimer’s typically is the longest and can last for a number of years. During this period, your family member or friend may begin to need a more significant degree of care.
Symptoms in the middle stage of the disease can include:
- Being withdrawn or moody.
- Forgetting both recent occurrences and important life events.
- A higher risk of wandering or getting lost.
- Changes in personality and behavior, including compulsions, delusions and repetitive actions.
- Confusion about the current time, day or location.
- Problems with controlling bladder or bowels.
- Disturbed sleep patterns.
Problems with reasoning and thinking become more obvious during this phase, and new problems can begin to surface. Significant challenges with everyday tasks like cooking and household chores may begin to develop.
An individual in the middle stage of Alzheimer’s may no longer have the ability to drive a vehicle or manage finances. Choosing appropriate clothing for the season also may become difficult to manage.
You can help your family member or friend by taking some steps to make daily tasks easier. For instance, you can lay out clothing that is appropriate for the location and weather, and you can patiently answer questions that may need to be asked repeatedly.
Severe or Late Stage
In late-stage Alzheimer’s, significant physical abilities may be lost, including speech and movement. Some individuals with Alzheimer’s may continue to speak specific words and phrases, but he or she may have difficulty with alerting you to pain or discomfort.
Severe personality changes may occur as cognitive skills and memory continue to decline, and an individual may need significant help with day-to-day activities.
At this point in the disease, your family member or friend may need 24-hour assistance with personal care needs and participation in daily activities. He or she also may be at higher risk of infections like pneumonia and may lose awareness of surroundings and recent events.
In late stage Alzheimer’s, individuals may remember your face — and those of other family members — but may not be able to recall your name. He or she also may mistake one person for another and may begin to experience delusions.
As physical and mental function continues to decline, your family member or friend is likely to need constant care and help with tasks like eating, bathing and dressing.
Consider Supportive Care for Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s progression can vary widely among individuals, and some people can live with the disease for two decades or more. The Overlook offers supportive care options for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. We take pride in providing a safe, familiar environment as we respect the dignity and interests of every individual. To find out more about supportive memory care, please contact us today.