Understanding Is Key To Receiving Proper Care
Alzheimer’s disease progresses slowly in three stages: early, middle, and late (also referred to as mild, moderate, and severe in medical terminology). However, since Alzheimer’s affects individuals differently, each person may experience symptoms or progress through the stages at different rates.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s worsen over time, although the progression varies from person to person. On average, individuals with Alzheimer’s live four to eight years after diagnosis, but some may live as long as 20 years depending on other factors. Changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s begin years before any symptoms appear, known as preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.
Early-Stage Alzheimer’s (mild):
In the early stage, individuals may function independently and participate in social activities. However, they may experience memory lapses, such as forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects. Symptoms may not be obvious at this stage, but family and friends may notice them, and a doctor can diagnose the disease using certain tools.
Common difficulties in this stage include:
- Struggling to recall names or words
- Having difficulty with tasks in social or work settings
- Losing or misplacing valuable objects
- Experiencing increased difficulty with planning or organizing
Middle-Stage Alzheimer’s (moderate):
The middle stage can last for many years, and as the disease progresses, individuals require more care. During this stage, dementia symptoms become more pronounced, and the individual may become confused, frustrated, or angry. Damage to nerve cells in the brain can also make it difficult for the person to express thoughts and perform routine tasks without assistance.
Symptoms may include:
- Forgetting events or personal history
- Feeling moody or withdrawn
- Being unable to recall personal information such as their address or telephone number
- Experiencing confusion about time and place
- Requiring help with choosing proper clothing
- Having trouble controlling bladder and bowels
- Demonstrating personality and behavioral changes, including suspiciousness and compulsive or repetitive behavior
In this stage, individuals can still participate in daily activities with assistance. Caregivers may want to consider respite care or an adult day center to provide temporary breaks while the person living with Alzheimer’s receives care in a safe environment.
Late-Stage Alzheimer’s (severe):
In the final stage of the disease, dementia symptoms are severe, and individuals lose the ability to communicate or control movement. They may still say words or phrases, but communicating pain becomes difficult. As memory and cognitive skills continue to worsen, significant personality changes may take place.
In this stage, individuals may:
- Require around-the-clock personal care
- Lose awareness of their surroundings and recent experiences
- Experience changes in physical abilities, including walking and swallowing
- Have difficulty communicating
- Become vulnerable to infections, especially pneumonia
During this stage, caregivers may want to use support services, such as hospice care, which focus on providing comfort and dignity at the end of life. Hospice can be of great benefit to people in the final stages of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, as well as their families. Although individuals may not be able to initiate engagement as much during the late stage, they can still benefit from interaction in appropriate ways, such as listening to music or receiving reassurance through touch.