For those that have to deal with it, Alzheimer’s disease is a terrifying thing. There is nothing more heart wrenching than to see your loved one slowly waste away into a shadow of themselves. But what exactly is this disease? How does it strip a person of their mind, layer by layer, until they have nothing left?
Alzheimer’s disease is an illness that falls under the general category of dementia. It’s easy to mix up dementia and Alzheimer’s, but the two are actually very different. Dementia specifically refers to the life-destroying process of a person losing their ability to think, remember, and reason – a process that can be caused by any disease! Alzheimer’s just happens to be the most common reason for it.
There’s no real way to stop this disease from developing and progressing, unfortunately. You can, however, prepare yourself and know how to handle it. It won’t make it any easier, but you’d be surprised how much positive thinking helps in the face of adversity!
Here Are 5 Stages Of Alzheimer’S Disease
1. Stage 1: No Symptoms
The first stage of the illness – also called Preclinical Alzheimer’s disease – can continue on for years. You can very easily pass through several decades with no apparent ill effects as the disease slowly takes hold.
What happens during this stage is that the brain cells start to die off, destroying connections between parts of the brain. However, the brain is pretty adaptable and has a lot of neurons – which means this sort of rapid cell death won’t be apparent for a long while.
It’s hard to catch Alzheimer’s early on because there’s almost nothing that hints the disease is there. This is starting to change. However – scientists have now developed a test that allows us to detect a special protein the brain produces when it has Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, this test is not yet perfected and commonplace.
Alzheimer’s disease can also be predicted via certain types of biomarkers. In other words, there are certain genetic, molecular, and cellular patterns associated with the disease. While these aren’t very good for creating a diagnosis, they can be used to confirm the disease when the symptoms start to appear.
Genetic testing is also an option, which can tell you whether you’re at high risk for the disease. Although they aren’t recommended for everyone, you might want to consider discussing it with your doctor if the disease runs in your family.
Hopefully, as more research is conducted, there will be better ways to detect the disease as early as possible. From there, perhaps a cure for it can finally be created.
2. Stage 2: Symptoms Develop
Unfortunately, the brain can only last for so long. Dementia begins to show itself after the brain deterioration hits a certain tipping point. It won’t be too obvious at first – most of the slip-ups and confusion at this point are minor. Most people will think that it’s all just a part of getting old, although the fact that it is now interfering with normal life will be slightly alarming.
It can still be a bit concerning as well, especially when your loved ones are much older. Will they be alright on their own? What if they hurt themselves by accident? Already age makes the body so vulnerable to being injured. If you can’t trust their minds to be sharp, it’s hard to feel like they will be safe and be capable of caring for themselves.
Catching the symptoms at this point is much easier, as they are now apparent. Some of the symptoms include:
- Mild memory lapses
- Difficulty with estimating the time needed for a task
- Difficulty with visualizing steps needed for a task
- Struggles to make wise and sound decisions
Dementia, in any form, is never easy to deal with. Thankfully, most folks at this stage can generally get along fine – although you may find them becoming stubborn and easily frustrated. You can help your loved ones by organizing their lives and taking care of more difficult tasks, and to keep an eye on them where you can.
You can also introduce medications that may help with slowing down the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. Puzzles like Sudoku and the like can also keep a brain healthy for as long as possible – although it must be understood that this is merely delaying an inevitable outcome.
At this point, it’s a good idea to create systems that will bring joy and happiness. As it turns out, addiction to all things positive is something that can happen. Ideally, you’ll want to take advantage of this – dementia only gets more frustrating with time. So if everyone starts off with a positive mindset, it should make things much easier.
3. Stage 3: Dementia Becomes Apparent
For some lucky folks, most dementia will stay relatively mild for the rest of their lives. In some wonderful cases, they may even recover from it! Alzheimer’s disease, unfortunately, gives no such luxury. Essentially, all the symptoms that they showed in the second stage become even worse.
This is the point when everyone starts noticing something is wrong. You may notice your loved one struggling to remember recent events or struggle with doing tasks they previously had no issues with. In some cases, there’s even a change in personality – maybe they suddenly start withdrawing in social situations, or they lash out at people around them without warning.
What’s happening at this point is that the brain is starting to deteriorate and develop mild dementia. This affects things higher-level functioning like:
- Being able to express oneself
- Understanding and processing information
- Short-term memory loss
- Long-term memory formation, due to short-term memories unable to last long enough to be transformed into long-term memories
- Navigation, especially in unfamiliar places
- Placement of belongings
It’s likely that you’ll want to hire someone to check in on them on a regular basis if you’re unable to do it yourself. If you can move in, that would be ideal – but by this point, most people with Alzheimer’s can be stubborn in demanding their independence. And it can be really, really hard to explain to them why they shouldn’t be alone anymore.
If it’s possible, it would be a good idea to have some sort of assisted living arrangement created. You could also move in to care for them, but that’s not always the most viable solution these days.
4. Stage 4: Dementia Worsens
By this point, it is outright dangerous for folks with Alzheimer’s disease to be left on their own, even for short periods of time. There’s a lot of frustration here, as your loved one starts losing more and more of their memory. It’s likely they may start forgetting who’s who or may mistake you for a different family member altogether.
It can be difficult for the person with Alzheimer’s disease – by this point, they’re losing things that are precious to them and are also suddenly unable to communicate the way they used to. Most of them will develop problems with bowel and bladder control around this time too.
Your loved ones aren’t the only ones that are struggling too. As you watch them deteriorate, it’s hard not to feel the strain. Are you caring enough for them? How do you handle watching your parent become so confused and lost? What do you say when they don’t recognize you and call you a stranger? Do you tell them the spouse they’re looking for has long passed on?
Some of the symptoms you might want to prepare yourself for include:
- Big changes in personality and temperament
- Assistance needed in simple daily tasks like brushing teeth or choosing clothes
- Increased confusion, as their memory deteriorates and they struggle to remember
- Worsening judgment
- The likeliness of wandering increases, in tandem with easily getting lost
It’s important to remember that positive thinking can help a lot here when you’re trying to care for your loved one. Your mindset can make handling this difficult time much easier and can smooth things all around during this time of great frustration.
You may want to consider moving in to stay with your loved one so you can care for them at home, but this can be incredibly stressful. A more popular alternative is to put them in a nursing home, where they can be cared for by trained professionals – though this can be distressing for them.
5. Stage 5: Severe Dementia
Hopefully, you and your loved one will never see this stage. At this stage, dementia has progressed to such a degree that it has left a physical impact on the person. Despite having an otherwise perfectly able body, the sufferer may lose most of their physical capability and movement.
This isn’t the only thing they lose. Unlike in the previous stage where they may be living in some kind of self-created illusion of the world, by this point, most people with Alzheimer’s will barely have anything left. Perhaps their very core memories, their earliest and most precious ones, may survive the mental onslaught.
It is also undeniable at this point – your loved one may be completely unrecognizable in terms of temperament and behavior. You will have a hard time reconciling the patient before you with the person you once knew and loved dearly, and it will be a difficult burden to bear.
Some of the symptoms you should be prepared for include:
- Loss of coherent communication, as the brain struggles to form proper thoughts
- Total assistance with daily tasks, including eating, using the bathroom, and grooming
- Difficulty with actions such as swallowing
- Difficulty with bladder and bowel control
- Inability to sit upright
- Inability to hold one’s head up
- Requires assistance to walk
By this point, it is likely best to leave the care of your loved one to professionals. It is often too stressful and taxing to care for them, no matter how willing you are.
Final Thoughts On Coping With Alzheimer’S Disease
Dementia is often something that is difficult to deal with since it means the brain itself is falling apart – and the person we know with it. Trying to stay positive in the face of such adversity can also be incredibly draining. Hopefully, this article will help you be better prepared for what is to come once Alzheimer’s disease has been diagnosed.
In the meantime, there are plenty of activities, puzzles, and even foods that may help slow down or even prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease. There’s no harm in trying these out – after all, the sooner you start, the more time you will have!