President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in 1983. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. More than 5 million Americans are living with the disease. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease may nearly triple, from 5 million to as many as 16 million, according to the Alzheimer’s Association 2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report.
The Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
There are four stages of Alzheimer’s Disease:
The first symptoms are often mistaken for aging or stress. Testing can reveal mild cognitive trouble for up to eight years before an actual diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. The biggest change is memory loss, which involves short-term memory loss and an inability to learn new information. Apathy can be observed at this stage and remains the most prevalent symptom throughout the course of the disease.
The increasing impairment of learning and memory eventually leads to a definitive diagnosis. In a small portion of individuals living with Alzheimer’s Disease, problems with language, executive functions, perception and movements are more prominent than memory problems. Older memories of the person’s life, facts learned, and implicit memory (the body’s memory on how to do things, like using a fork to eat) are affected to a lesser degree than new facts or memories.
This stage features a limited vocabulary and decreased word fluency. The person is capable of communicating basic ideas. Motor tasks such as writing, drawing, dressing or movement coordination may be present but are unnoticed. As the disease progresses, people living with Alzheimer’s can continue to do things on their own, but they may need assistance with the most cognitively demanding activities.
In this stage, deterioration hinders independence with subjects unable to perform the most common activities of daily living. Speech, reading, and writing skills are progressively lost. Motor skills decrease, so the risk of falling increases. Long-term memory, which previously was available, becomes impaired, and the person may fail to recognize close relatives.
Drastic behavioral changes are common, including wandering, irritability, crying, outbursts of aggression and resistance to caregiving. Victims can also have trouble controlling their bladder. These symptoms can create stress for caregivers. The stress can be reduced by moving the individual from home care to a long-term care facility.
During the last stage, the person is completely dependent upon caregivers. Language is reduced to simple phrases and words, which leads to complete speech loss. Despite this, people can understand emotional signals.
Aggressiveness can still be present, but extreme apathy and exhaustion are very common. In this stage, people are often confined to their bed and lose the ability to feed themselves. Alzheimer’s Disease is terminal, but pneumonia or other external factors are usually the cause of death.
Tips for Family Caregivers Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Disease is a difficult affliction which causes great stress on caregivers and families alike. Here are some tips for caregivers during these difficult circumstances:
- Organize your efforts to provide care and support for a loved one with a free account on CareTogether.
- Having a plan for getting through the day can help caregivers cope. Do the best you can, and remind yourself to take breaks.
- Ask the doctor any questions you have about Alzheimer’s Disease. Find out what treatments might work best to alleviate symptoms or address behavior problems.
- Contact organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center for more information about the disease, treatment options and caregiving resources. Some community groups may offer classes to teach caregiving, problem-solving and management skills.
- Find a support group where you can share your feelings and concerns. Online support groups make it possible for caregivers to receive support without having to leave home. The Alzheimer’s Association and other organizations sponsor support groups.
- Study your day to see if you can develop a routine that makes things go more smoothly. If there are times of the day when the person with Alzheimer’s Disease is more cooperative, plan your routine to make the most of those moments.
- Consider using adult daycare or respite care services to ease the day-to-day demands of caregiving.
- Begin to plan for the future. This may include getting financial and legal documents in order, investigating long-term care options and determining what services are covered by health insurance and Medicare.
Make the Holidays Safe and Special for Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s
BrightStar Care’s very own dementia care expert and Chief Clinical Quality Officer Sharon Roth Maguire, MS, RN, GNP-BC, and care expert Deborah Hustace, RN, MBA, Senior Director of Clinical Operations, hosted an engaging Facebook Live Chat on the topic of how to make the holidays safe and special for loved ones living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia.
Throughout the discussion, viewers submitted their questions for Sharon and Deborah to answer. Topics included traveling with an elderly loved one, medication management, family traditions, gift giving, and more. If you missed this informative live chat, you can watch it here now.
Memories & Connections Campaign for Alzheimer’s Awareness Month
As part of National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, BrightStar Care is sharing stories, with permission, that showcase real, personal stories of connections between clients, family care partners, and BrightStar Care caregivers.