When we think of Alzheimer’s disease it is often in an abstract way, focusing generally on the memory loss associated with the disease, but little else.
Of course, memory loss is a large part of Alzheimer’s disease. But it is not the only part. There are many other changes that occur as the disease progresses, both neurologically and physically. And, with those changes come challenges, not only for the individuals living through them, but for those who care for them.
Alzheimer’s is not an easy topic of discussion for most families, especially for those with growing suspicions that a family member may be entering the early stages of the disease. And yet, we have found that the more educated and informed a family is, the more able they are to regain their footing and move forward as they care for their loved one and plan for the road ahead.
Alzheimer’s is a complicated disease. It can be divided into three stages: early, middle, and late. Here are some of the behavioral and physical changes one can expect when a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Early Stage: Most individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease are still living on their own and able to function independently. However, they will begin to experience with increasing consistency some or all of the following:
- Difficulty remembering names and words.
- Difficulty performing tasks at work or in social situations.
- Misplacing and/or losing important objects.
- Confusion and disorientation in planning or engaging in tasks.
- Forgetting information just given to them or people they have just met.
Middle Stage: This can be the longest stage of the disease, often lasting for years. At this stage of the disease, families need to begin looking into professional care, either in-home or a memory care community. Here are some key behavioral and physical changes during this stage:
- Unable to recount key events in the family.
- Unable to recite their own address and/or phone number.
- Forgetting the date and time.
- Unable to remember the high school or college they attended.
- Changes in sleep patterns.
- Loss of bladder or bowel control.
- Becoming lost.
- Behavioral changes including becoming more anxious, suspicious and compulsive.
Late Stage: At this stage, an individual no longer has the ability to interact effectively with their surroundings and people around them. Here are some of the behavioral and physical changes associated with late stage Alzheimer’s disease:
- Loss of awareness of people and surroundings.
- Difficulty in forming words to communicate.
- Unable to attend to activities of daily living.
- May begin to have trouble walking and even sitting up straight.
- Eventually may no longer be able to swallow.
- May become more prone to physical illness.
As difficult as it is to cope with the anticipation of these changes, it is important for families to understand the disease and how it progresses. We always recommend that family members begin their journey with as much information as possible. That means consulting with your loved one’s physician and with mental health experts who specialize in Alzheimer’s disease. It is also important to reach out to clergy members and/or other support systems to help prepare for the emotional journey ahead.
Finally, we invite you to reach out to any of our communities for more information and attend a dementia support group. We have resources that can be beneficial moving forward. We welcome you to come visit and share your challenges with us. We’re always here to help!