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Stages of Alzheimer’s: Tips for Patients, Families & Caregivers

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that progresses slowly and affects memory, thinking, and behavior. At the beginning of the disease, the patient may not remember recent events and conversations; as the disease progresses, the person experiences memory impairment and even loses the ability to perform daily activities. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. 

Caring for Alzheimer’s patients is a relatively difficult task, especially in the later disease stage. Having a professional caregiver helps the patient to receive supportive care tailored to his or her condition. Health & Care Professional Network with experienced caregivers help you to take care of your loved one at home with the best standards.

To understand how to care for an Alzheimer’s patient, we must first understand the stages of Alzheimer’s and the symptoms that the patient experiences at each stage.

 

How was Alzheimer’s disease discovered?

In 1906, German physician Dr. Alois Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain of a patient who had died of an unusual mental disorder. After the death, he examined the patient’s brain and found abnormal clumps and tangled bundles of fibers, later called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary. These plaques and tangles in the brain are still the most prominent features of this disease.

 

What causes Alzheimer’s?

It is interesting to know that the microscopic changes that lead to Alzheimer’s disease occur long before the first symptoms of the illness appear. Our brain is made up of nerve cells called neurons. Neurons are connected using a communication network, and each has a specific function. For example, some neurons are involved in thinking, behaving, or learning, while others are involved in smelling and hearing. Each nerve cell acts as a small factory, providing the energy needed for cell function, getting rid of waste, and communicating with other cells. In Alzheimer’s disease, parts of this factory are disrupted for reasons that are not yet clear to scientists. Unfortunately, the cellular damages caused by Alzheimer’s disease is irreversible, and the body can not repair them.

  • hygiene reduces the risk of bacteria entering the lungs and pneumonia. Therefore, brush the patient’s teeth after each meal.
  • Simple cuts can lead to serious infections in Alzheimer’s patients. So wash the incision with soap and water and also use topical antibiotics.
  • Influenza in Alzheimer’s patients can lead to pneumonia. Therefore, receiving the flu vaccine is very important.

At the late stages of Alzheimer’s, the patient is unable to communicate. Therefore, if you suspect pain, consult a doctor immediately. The following signs may be a symptom of pain or illness:

  • Pale skin tone
  • Flushed skin tone
  • Pale gums
  • Mouth sores
  • Feverish skin
  • Swelling of any part of the body

Behavioral changes such as anxiety, agitation, shouting, and sleep problems can also be signs of pain.

 

The bottom line

As you can see, as the disease progresses, the demands of the patient change. As a patient’s family, you should know more about the stages of Alzheimer’s and ask your questions of medical professionals and seek advice from caregivers.

Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient requires a super-human effort. Be sure to get help for your patient and get help for yourself.

Disease progression

People with Alzheimer’s generally live 4 to 8 years after the diagnosis but may live up to 20 years. Before symptoms appear, the brain begins to change, called preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. Progression of the disease occurs in three stages:

  • Early-stage Alzheimer’s (mild)
  • Middle-stage Alzheimer’s (moderate)
  • Late-stage Alzheimer’s (severe)

It is hard to pinpoint the exact stage of the disease as the stages may overlap.

Early-stage Alzheimer’s

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, the patient still keeps his function and can continue to do activities such as cooking or driving and engagement in social activities. The symptoms of the disease are not very obvious at this stage, but the family notices some changes. The patient may forget familiar words or the location of daily objects. The doctor is able to identify the disease using some diagnostic tools.

Some of the symptoms of this disease are:

  • Choosing the right name and words becomes difficult.
  • The patient has difficulty remembering names when introducing new people.
  • Doing work and social tasks becomes a little complicated.
  • The patient loses valuable objects.
  • The patient has difficulty in organizing and planning.

At the early stages of Alzheimer’s, the person still has the ability to make decisions so he/she can put legal, financial, and end-of-life plans in place.

Middle-stage Alzheimer’s

This stage of Alzheimer’s is the longest stage of the disease and, in some cases, lasts for years. As the disease progresses, the patient needs more care. At this stage, the person experiences emotions such as frustration, anxiety, and anger and may act in an unexpected way. For example, he may refuse to take a bath. Because the brain damage at this stage is profound, the patient cannot express his or her thoughts and feelings correctly. He also can not perform his daily tasks without assistance. The symptoms that people experience at this stage vary from person to person, but some of the most common symptoms are:

  • The patient has difficulty remembering the history of important life events.
  • The person becomes moody or withdrawn in social and emotional situations.
  • It becomes difficult to:
  • Remember information such as address and phone number.
  • Remember where they are or what day it is.
  • Control urination and defecation.
  • The sleep pattern changes; for example, the patient becomes restless at night and sleeps during the day.

Personality and behavioral changes become apparent. For example, delusions, repetitive and compulsive behaviors, and suspiciousness occur.

At this stage, the person is still able to perform daily activities but needs help. You must make sure that the patient receives the necessary and correct assistance in a safe environment. In addition, caregivers who have experience working with these patients can play a very effective role.

Late-stage Alzheimer’s

At the late stages of Alzheimer’s, the symptoms of the disease are very severe. The patient is no longer able to respond properly to the environment and can not even control his movements. Cognitive and memory skills are declining at this stage, and very extreme personality changes are occurring.

At this stage, the patient needs extensive care. The remarkable features of this stage include the following:

  • The patient needs daily personal care.
  • Awareness of recent experiences is lost.
  • It is difficult to walk, sit and even swallow.
  • It becomes difficult to communicate.
  • The patient becomes vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia.

How to care for the patient in the later stages of the disease?

At the late stages of Alzheimer’s, caregivers should use supportive care, and their main focus should be providing the patient’s comfort at the end of his life.

For example, caregivers may consider the following:

  • Reading parts of a book that are meaningful to the patient.
  • Playing favorite music
  • Preparing favorite dishes
  • Looking at old photos together
  • Brushing the patient’s hair
  • Rubbing cream with a favorite scent into the skin

Since the patient is unable to walk at this stage, he also needs less food. Therefore, caregivers should consider some points regarding the nutrition of patients:

  • If the patient has difficulty swallowing, the caregiver should prepare soft food for him.
  • Encourage the patient to drink water because, in some cases, the patient does not notice thirst or forgets to drink water.
  • Check the patient’s weight regularly. At the late stages of Alzheimer’s, weight loss is normal, but in some cases, it may be a sign of another illness, malnutrition, or side effects of medication.

As we said in the last stages of the disease, the person is prone to various infections, so when caring for patients, you should pay attention to the following points:

  • Take care of the patient’s oral hygiene. Proper oral hygiene reduces the risk of bacteria entering the lungs and pneumonia. Therefore, brush the patient’s teeth after each meal.
  • Simple cuts can lead to serious infections in Alzheimer’s patients. So wash the incision with soap and water and also use topical antibiotics.
  • Influenza in Alzheimer’s patients can lead to pneumonia. Therefore, receiving the flu vaccine is very important.

At the late stages of Alzheimer’s, the patient is unable to communicate. Therefore, if you suspect pain, consult a doctor immediately. The following signs may be a symptom of pain or illness:

  • Pale skin tone
  • Flushed skin tone
  • Pale gums
  • Mouth sores
  • Feverish skin
  • Swelling of any part of the body

Behavioral changes such as anxiety, agitation, shouting, and sleep problems can also be signs of pain.

The bottom line

As you can see, as the disease progresses, the demands of the patient change. As a patient’s family, you should know more about the stages of Alzheimer’s and ask your questions of medical professionals and seek advice from caregivers.

Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient requires a super-human effort. Be sure to get help for your patient and get help for yourself.

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