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The Journey Through Alzheimer’s Is Different For Each Person

Every individual is different and therefore every individual will experience the journey through Alzheimer’s disease differently. In honor of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month this June, we will talk about what those different journeys entail in hospice care in San Francisco and elsewhere.

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that progressively and slowly destroys thinking and memory skills, as well as the ability to carry out simple tasks. Most people don’t have symptoms till later in life, with more than six million Americans age 65 or older suffering from dementia due to Alzheimer’s, according to the National Institutes of Health. It’s the seventh leading cause of death in this country and happens to be the top cause of dementia in older adults.

Dementia is a more general term to include the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, reasoning, and remembering — and behavioral abilities that can greatly impact daily life and activities. There are many types of dementia, and Alzheimer’s is just one of them.

Alzheimer’s Has 3 General Stages

While most people with Alzheimer’s can expect to go through three general stages, the rate at which they progress through them or hit every milestone will be different for everyone. It’s impossible to say how each individual will progress, and how long they will live with symptoms at each stage. The best thing to do is familiarize yourself with each stage and keep in constant contact with your doctor or that of your loved one.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people with Alzheimer’s typically live four to eight years after they are diagnosed; however, they could live as long as 20 years, but this will depend on many other factors. It’s important to note that changes in the brain that are related to Alzheimer’s could start many years before the person shows concrete signs of the disease. This time period could last for years and is called preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.

The stages of Alzheimer’s can be placed into three main categories: mild, moderate, and severe. Many stages overlap so it’s tough to determine which stage a person is in at any one time.

1. Early (Mild) Stage

During this stage, a person may function quite independently, continuing to work, drive, and take part in social activities. But they may notice they are experiencing occasional memory lapses, like the inability to remember familiar words and phrases or the location of common objects such as glasses and keys.

Symptoms aren’t always super apparent at this stage; however, it’s often family and close friends who will notice subtle changes.

Difficulties during this stage include:

  • Finding the right word, phrase, or name.
  • Remembering names after being introduced to new people.
  • Difficulty performing social or work tasks.
  • Failure to remember material that was just read.
  • Losing or misplacing valuable objects.
  • Trouble with organizing or planning.

2. Middle (Moderate) Stage

The middle stage is usually the longest stage, often lasting for several years. With disease progression, the person will require more and more care. Dementia symptoms become more obvious, often resulting in the person confusing words, getting frustrated or angry, and acting in unusual or stubborn ways, such as refusing to bathe or engage in daily personal hygiene. Because the damage is occurring to nerve cells in the brain, it becomes harder and harder for the person to clearly express thoughts or even engage in routine tasks without help.

Symptoms during the middle stage include:

  • Forgetting events or personal history.
  • ​Moodiness and becoming withdrawn in situations that are mentally or socially challenging.
  • Inability to recall personal information, such as address and phone number, or high school they attended.
  • Confusion regarding the day of the week or where they are.
  • Assistance is needed in choosing proper clothing for a particular occasion or season.
  • Inability to control bladder and bowels.
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as restlessness at night and sleeping a lot during the day.
  • Tendency to wander or get lost.
  • Personality and behavioral changes, including delusions or compulsive behavior such as hand-wringing.

People in this stage can still participate in daily activities, but usually only with help.

3. Late (Severe) Stage

This is the final stage and it’s when the dementia symptoms are the most severe. People in this stage cannot respond to their environment, engage in conversation, or control movement. Communication is difficult, even though they may get across a few words or phrases. Significant personality changes can occur and they will need round-the-clock care as memory and cognitive skills worsen.

Individuals at this stage will:

  • Not be aware of recent experiences or surroundings.
  • Display changes in physical abilities, including sitting, walking, and swallowing
  • Have trouble communicating.
  • Be more vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia.

While the person can’t initiate engagement during this stage, they may still find relaxing music and gentle touches quite comforting. Hospice care is usually discussed during the final stage for patients as well as their families.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

We offer comprehensive dementia care here at Pathways Home Health and Hospice, which includes social activities, caregiver support, ostomy and wound care, and daily care. To learn more, reach out to us at 888-978-1306.