Understanding the stages of Alzheimer's

Image: Understanding the stages of Alzheimer's

In this session of caregiver tip Tuesday we take a look at the different stages of Alzheimer's and the types of appropriate care for each stage.

Alzheimer's is a degenerative disease that destroys brain cells and is regarded as the most common form of dementia, accounting for 64% of all dementia cases in Canada. It is a debilitating disease, mainly due to its progressive nature which can span anywhere between seven to ten years. With no known cure, the disease cannot be stopped from worsening but with the right medications and right type of care people suffering from Alzheimer's can still lead dignified lives.

Stages and Care Planning:

There are 4 known stages of Alzheimer's; Early Onset, Early, Middle and Late. Early Onset refers to individuals who have been diagnosed with the disease at a younger age; this is quite rare as most people who develop Alzheimer's are typically in the later years of their life.

Early stage refers to people who have mild memory impairment. Since the symptoms at this stage are not as noticeable, many people often do not know they have Alzheimer's. These symptoms may include: forgetfulness, communication difficulties and slight changes in mood or behaviour. At this stage very little care is likely needed as the individual is still able to do many daily tasks and aware of their condition. It is best to take this opportunity to discuss the future care plan of your loved one while they are still able to express their care wishes and desires coherently.

Middle stage refers to people whose memory continues to deteriorate, but are still aware of their condition. At this stage individuals will increasingly need assistance with activities of daily living and or prompts to remind them to do certain tasks. While 24 hour care may not be necessary at this point you may want to look into incorporating additional supports into your care planning. These may include: Day programs specific for individuals with Alzheimer's or hiring Personal Support Workers who can come into your loved ones home and assist them with activities of daily living such as, brushing teeth, making a meal or light house keeping.

Late stage refers to people who have reached a state of decreased mental ability. At this stage many individuals experience severe memory loss, loss of ability to speak, walk or sit without assistance and even ability to swallow. With the advancement of the disease at this stage 24 hour care is ideal. If you are unable to provide 24 hour care yourself or through family and friends, consider hiring a home health care company to provide round the clock care from Personal Support Workers and Nurses, or move your loved one to long term care or retirement home facility. It is important that at this stage your primary goal is to provide your loved one with the highest quality of life possible.

The progression of Alzheimer's does not have a clear timeline, individuals can spend months or even years in any of the stages therefore making hard to know exactly when or what care would be appropriate. Being prepared is the key to all stages of Alzheimer's, once your loved one has been diagnosed take the time to plan for immediate and long term care. Create a road map of various care options that will suite the various stages and the needs of your loved one. This will relieve any stresses or worries as the disease advances. For more information on how Spectrum Health Care can assist you in caring for you loved one with Alzheimer's click here.

Alzheimer's Society of Canada