Wednesday, December 13

The Three Stages of Alzheimer's Disease

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There are three defined stages of Alzheimer’s.  The first stage is known as Mild Alzheimer’s, the second stage Moderate Alzheimer’s and the final stage, Severe Alzheimer’s.  Alzheimer’s can begin at a young age, some people experience the beginnings of the first stage in their 40s and 50s, however, it is more common for people in their early 60s to begin show signs of the desease.

People with Mild Alzheimer’s often experience some memory loss.  Things such as names of familiar people, places, and recent events become increasingly more difficult to recall.  There are often small changes in the person’s personality, such as increased sensitivity to an insult or an injury, they may harp upon it or become fearful.  For example, my grandmother, now in advanced stage two of the disease often talked about a hair dresser who washed her hair with water that was a little too hot.  For about year all she could talk about was the mean lady that purposefully burned her.  She would become so agitated that we could never take her back to that hair dresser again. She would cry and become angry.

As the first stage of Alzheimer’s progresses the ability to do simple tasks such as balance a check book, make a grocery or to do list becomes increasingly difficult.  Simple tasks such as shopping or making their way around town alone become difficult and near impossible.  The person is slowly, but surely losing their ability to plan and organize.

Moderate Alzheimer’s, known as the middle or second stage, is when memory loss and confusion become more obvious.  Following simple directions, making plans and organizing things becomes increasingly difficult and frustrating, not only for the patients family, but for the patient as well.  Simple tasks such as remembering how to dress themselves become increasingly difficult and they may begin to have problems remembering to go to the bathroom and may experience incontinence.   Incontinence means that they have problems controlling their bladder and or bowels.

People with moderate Alzheimer’s may have problems recognizing friends and family members, often forgetting where they are and what year it is.  Many times they will begin to wander and experience a lack of judgment.  A person with moderate Alzheimer’s cannot and should not be left alone.  During this stage if it normal for them to experience restlessness, difficulty sleeping and they may begin to become increasingly restless towards the afternoon and evening.  Personality changes become more extreme, often a person with Alzheirmer’s can become abusive, kicking, hitting, biting, grabbing things and making threats.  My grandmother started accusing my mother of stealing her clothes, money and other belongings.  I found out later that this is normal for the second stage of Alzheimer’s.

The last stage of Alzheimer’s, also known as Severe Alzheimer’s almost always ends in the death of the person.  At this stage people need help with their daily care.  They may lose the ability to walk and sit up without help.  It is my experience that these changes can happen in a matter of days.  One day my grandmother could walk, the next day she just forgot how.  Monday she could sit up, by Tuesday she just couldn’t.  They sometimes lose the ability to talk and often do not recognize family members. They may revert to a different age, my grandmother cries for her parents all the time, she feels that they have abandoned her and she often denies that she has ever had children.  Often they have trouble swallowing food or their own saliva and refuse to eat. 

While each person is different in how the onset of Alzheimer’s develops within their brain, it is most certain that forcing a person with Alzheimer’s to do things that they just can’t any more is not going to make them remember how to do those things.  You can however help a person with Alzhiemer’s by engaging them mentally.  Engaging them in activities they enjoy and are mentally stimulatining can help to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, especially in the early stages.

Each person may change from day to day, but it is most certain that at this time there is no cure for this disease.  There are, however, support groups, organizations, books, DVDs, CDs and other materials that will help the people who are providing care for a person with Alzheimer’s. 

Some resources that I have used are listed below

www.alz.org

www.MyAlzheimersSupport.com

www.agingcarefl.org/caregiver/alzheimers/support

www.HomeInsteadWalnutCreek.net

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