Families and loved ones will be quick to tell you that Alzheimer’s disease is more than just occasionally forgetting things. In fact, residents of Dubuque and elsewhere will likely describe the condition as a terrible progressive health condition that slowly strips away your identity, brain cell by brain cell, until you go on hospice care and ultimately die.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice has worked with many patients at different stages of Alzheimer’s disease. We’ve seen how challenging it can be for those with the condition and also for those around them.
In some cases, as caregivers, we’re ultimately providing different types of help to everyone, from direct help to those with Alzheimer’s disease to general support and education to those nearby.
If you don’t know much about Alzheimer’s disease and want to learn more, September is a good time to do so.
It’s officially World Alzheimer’s Month, an international campaign designed to educate people, reduce some of the negative stigmas, promote research and action, raise funds, and celebrate those working to make a difference at a local and global level.
The month-long celebration encourages people to reach out to their local Alzheimer’s Association, an international non-profit dedicated to research, education, and fund-raising. These groups can tell you about local chapters and support groups, fund-raising efforts, specific events like the Walk to End Alzheimer’s every fall, and various ongoing celebrations.
This year, because of the threat of COVID-19, large group walks in big cities aren’t happening but people who do want to support the association and get involved are encouraged to conduct their own individual walk or a small group in their hometown.
Visitors to the Alzheimer’s Association site and other dementia resources can also learn about the different stages of Alzheimer’s disease, which can give an idea of what people are going through. Though every individual is different in what symptoms they display and when they begin to appear, there are generally some similar stages and feelings that can be experienced. Knowing what’s happening can make it easier to empathize with what they’re going through.
This includes the physical and mental process as the disease progresses, along with their reaction to them, such as confusion, fear, or depression.
Different medical organizations have different stages of Alzheimer’s, and there is some overlap on some symptoms, especially as more research takes place.
One established authority is the Mayo Clinic, which has generally identified five stages: preclinical, mild cognitive impairment, mild dementia, moderate dementia, and severe dementia.
People may experience different things with each stage.
- Preclinical: You may not know that you have the disease in this case but your body will begin to show some of the symptoms and biomarkers at a small level. It can also show up in a genetic test and may even begin showing up as early as age 50 or even earlier in some. At this point, people may not be aware they have it, so they won’t be expressing any unusual feelings or concerns.
- Mild cognitive: This is where people begin to see the start of memory and cognitive problems, such as forgetting small details, recent events, and more. Few of these are severe and can easily be dismissed as feeling overwhelmed/getting older but a health care provider may begin to ask more questions to pinpoint why memory problems are happening. As things advance, decision-making may be impacted. People may be feeling a little confused or frustrated.
- Mild dementia. Family and medical staff may notice more problems with memory and thinking, and daily activities might be impacted. This can include not remembering recent details and asking the same questions over and over or not remembering where possessions are. It could also include difficulty making decisions and solving problems. It’s also in this period when many people’s personalities begin to change, whether it’s due to changes in the brain, difficulty communicating, the realization that something more serious is happening than simple forgetfulness or any of the above.
- Moderate dementia. More feelings of confusion and poor judgment will begin to emerge and may increase as the day goes by. It’s in this period when people begin to wander or be less familiar with their surroundings. They also may need help with previously simple tasks like dressing or grooming, and also may experience feelings like paranoia or hallucinations. Trying to emphasize with people can mean simply listening to their fears and confusion or reassuring them what’s real and what isn’t.
- Severe dementia. At this point, there will be severe behavioral changes, everything from acting aggressively to putting things in one’s mouth that isn’t always food. They may not be able to speak or walk without assistance and some may even forget how to swallow, so there’s a higher risk of choking or dehydration. It’s difficult to communicate with them in such an agitated state but they may recognize certain voices or songs which can help calm them.