If you’ve never cared for a family member with Alzheimer’s Disease, you may be unfamiliar with its symptoms and progression. Alzheimer’s Disease doesn’t just affect a person’s memory—it’s a degenerative disease of the brain that causes dementia and eventually impacts everything from cognitive ability to speech and motor function. While some Alzheimer’s patients experience a gradual decline and may live for up to 20 years after their initial diagnosis, most individuals die of complications from Alzheimer’s between four and eight years after diagnosis.
While there are treatments available to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease and exceptional research is being done here in Canada and around the globe, there is no cure at this time. Dementia isn’t easy for anyone—not for the senior who is dealing with a loss of memory function and independence, and not for their loved ones. Living Assistance Services in Toronto is available to support families through dedicated in-home caregiver services. Today, we’d like to share an overview of the stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. While this information may be upsetting, we hope it empowers you to provide the best possible care for your loved one.
Early stage (mild)
Many individuals are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in the early stage after exhibiting emerging symptoms of dementia. During this phase, individuals may still be working outside of the home and/or living independently. As dementia symptoms emerge, they may be confused with symptoms of exhaustion, depression or stress. These symptoms may include misplacing objects, a reduced ability to plan or get organized, forgetting to pay bills, trouble retaining information, forgetting words or repeating questions. You may also notice that the individual takes longer to complete tasks, demonstrates poor judgement, or has mood swings and personality changes.
Mid stage (moderate)
In the middle stage of Alzheimer’s Disease, individuals demonstrate more pronounced symptoms. They may become easily frustrated or agitated, struggle to communicate clearly, experience incontinence, show signs of restlessness, have difficulty sleeping through the night and/or struggle to choose the appropriate clothing items for the weather or occasion. An example of this may be going outdoors in winter without a hat or jacket.
Additional symptoms include difficulty recognizing known people in their lives, impulsive behaviour and/or uncharacteristic outbursts, difficulty coping with new or unfamiliar situations, more significant memory loss and even paranoia. Some individuals in this stage of Alzheimer’s Disease will struggle to follow directions and begin requiring meaningful daily support from a caregiver in this stage. Some modifications to their environment may be required for their comfort and safety (removing clutter, adding directional signs, etc). An individual in this stage of Alzheimer’s Disease typically requires support with bathing, dressing, feeding and other Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). As wandering is also a concern at this stage, 24-hour supervision is often necessary.
Late stage (severe)
In the late stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia symptoms are much more pronounced and have a significant impact on quality of life. Independent functioning is no longer possible as individuals with late stage Alzheimer’s Disease typically lose their ability to walk or communicate. They are often unaware of their surroundings and become prone to illness and infection. Eventually, individuals in the final stages of Alzheimer’s Disease will lose the ability to swallow and require feeding support and/or palliative care.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a brutal condition, and we understand the stress and hardship it places on families. Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is both emotionally and logistically challenging, particularly as more care is required, and the experience can be incredibly draining. There is no way to reverse Alzheimer’s, so a proper medical diagnosis, treatment plan and support system are critical to both the patient and their loved ones. Sharing caregiving responsibilities between family members and a dedicated PSW is often appropriate and effective.
If you’d like to learn more, we recommend reading information from the Alzheimer’s Association or the National Institutes on Aging. You can also contact your local Alzheimer’s Society for additional resources and support. And, if you’re interested in in-home caregiver services to support your family, please contact us. We’d be pleased to answer your questions and offer a personalized quote.