Alzheimers Disease Meaning, Stages, Signs, News
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive illness, which means the disease, and the symptoms of Alzheimer Disease worsen over time. After first being diagnosed, some people may live 10 years or an average life expectancy. In people with Alzheimer’s disease, changes in the brain may begin 10 to 20 years before any visible signs or symptoms appear. Some regions of the brain may begin to shrink, resulting in memory loss, the first visible sign of Alzheimer’s disease. The course of the disease varies from person to person, but symptoms develop over the same general stages.
Over time, Alzheimer’s disease progresses through three main stages: mild, moderate, and severe. Because there is currently no way of looking inside a living brain to see the damage Alzheimer’s disease causes, these stages are characterized by a collection of signs and symptoms and behaviors the people with this disease experience.
People with mild Alzheimer’s disease often seem healthy, but they are actually having trouble making sense of the world around them. In moderate Alzheimer’s disease, the damaging processes occurring in the brain worsen and spread to other areas that control language, reasoning, sensory processing, and thought. In this stage, signs and symptoms become more pronounced and behavioral problems can occur. In the last stage of Alzheimer’s disease, damage to the brain’s nerve cells is widespread. At this point, full-time care is typically required.
The Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Stage I: Mild Alzheimer’s disease
Signs and symptoms of mild Alzheimer’s disease can include:
- Memory loss and changes in expressive speech
- Confusion about the location of familiar places
- Taking longer to finish the routine, daily tasks
- The difficulty with simple math problems and related issues like handling money, paying bills, or balancing a checkbook
- The poor judgment which leads to bad decisions
- Mood and personality changes
- Increased anxiety
Stage II: Moderate Alzheimer’s disease
Signs and symptoms of moderate Alzheimer’s disease can include:
- Increased memory loss
- Shortened attention span
- Difficulty recognizing friends and family
- Problems with language, including speech, reading, comprehension, and writing
- Difficulty organizing thoughts
- Inability to learn new things or cope with unexpected situations
- Restlessness, agitation, anxiety, tearfulness, and wandering, especially in the late afternoon or evening
- Repetitive statements or movements
- Hallucinations, delusions, suspiciousness, or paranoia
- Loss of impulse control (for example, sloppy table manners, undressing at inappropriate times or inappropriate places, vulgar language)
Stage III: Severe Alzheimer’s disease
- Complete loss of language and memory
- Weight loss
- Seizures, skin infections, and difficulty swallowing
- Groaning, moaning, or grunting
- Increased sleeping
- Lack of bladder and bowel control
- Loss of physical coordination
Alzheimer’s Disease and the Brain
The brain is the most complex organ of the human body. It controls functions that affect all aspects of our daily lives — activities like speaking, moving, seeing, making decisions and having emotional responses. The brain also controls functions we’re not conscious of, like digestion, breathing, and circulation.
Doctors know that certain abnormal changes happen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Think of the brain as a communications network, made up of billions of neurons, or nerve cells. These cells send electrical messages to one another across gaps, or synapses, where information and instructions are processed by other parts of the brain.
In people with Alzheimer’s disease, abnormal changes to these nerve structures cause the communication pathways, or bridges, to break down and ultimately, become permanently disconnected. When messages are no longer able to be transmitted, the cells may die. As a result, certain aspects of brain function that control memory, behavior, personality, and other bodily functions, can be lost.
Because of these changes, people may behave in unusual ways. Or they may forget information that used to be second nature, like how to drive, how to behave in public, or how to get dressed. In the severe stages, people with Alzheimer’s disease may even lose the connections that enabled them to recognize family and friends. All of these types of behaviors are lost because the areas in the brain that controlled them are no longer working.
Over time, changes that take place in the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s disease can cause them to exhibit unusual physical and emotional behavior. For example, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may show signs of agitation, aggression, or impulsive behavior, which can be difficult for family and friends to become accustomed to. It’s important to remember that people with Alzheimer’s disease may not be in control of their behavior, which may be frustrating for them.
How to Care for a Loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease
With an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis comes gradual, then increasing change. For example, caregivers may find they need to adapt to new schedules and take on new roles. They may also need to change their own behavior to help support and care for the person with Alzheimer’s disease. Adapting to these changes is not easy, and requires a great deal of understanding, flexibility, and patience.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, simple tasks like communicating, dressing, eating, bathing, and accomplishing general activities can become difficult to manage. Caregivers can help ease some of the frustration by evaluating each unique situation, and by staying calm and trying their best to be patient, responsive, and flexible.
Here are some tips for caring for a loved one:
- Choose simple words and speak in short sentences with a calm tone of voice.
- Minimize distractions, like TV or radio, to help the person focus.
- Allow enough time for a response, and be careful not to interrupt.
- If the person seems to be struggling to communicate a thought, gently try to offer the word he or she may be looking for.
- Try to frame questions or instructions positively, and speak slowly and clearly.
- Maintain eye contact and use positive, friendly facial expressions.
The way we dress helps us to express our individuality. This is also true for the person with Alzheimer’s disease. However, like many daily tasks, something as simple as getting dressed can be challenging or frustrating. Use these tips to help with daily dressing:
- Try to establish a specific time each day for the person to get dressed.
- Encourage them to dress themselves, and plan extra time so there’s no rush.
- Arrange the clothes in the order they should be put on, to help make the task easier.
- Choose clothing that is comfortable, easy to care for, and easy to manage. For example, you may want to choose Velcro® closures over zippers and buttons.
Some people with Alzheimer’s disease want to eat all the time, while others must be encouraged to maintain a healthy diet. Use these tips to help with daily meals:
- Create a quiet, soothing atmosphere for eating, to help the person focus on the meal. This can be particularly helpful if the person resists eating.
- Provide a limited number of choices, and serve small portions.
- If the person struggles with utensils, substitute finger foods, or try using a bowl instead of a plate.
Daily activity can help bring purpose and meaning to the life of a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Try to encourage those special interests and hobbies that can still be pursued. Use these tips to help with daily activities:
- In finding an activity, try to build on current skills instead of introducing something new.
- Don’t expect too much.
- Help the person get started, and break down the activity into several smaller tasks.
- Be on the lookout for signs of frustration or agitation. Gently distract the person’s attention to something else.
- Try to establish a daily routine that incorporates activities the person enjoys.
Alzheimer’s Disease Support
Here are some educational and informative resources that will help you understand more about Alzheimer ’s disease:
- American Health Assistance Foundation
- Mayo Clinic
- Alzheimer’s Disease Education & Referral Center
- American Academy of Family Physicians
- Alzheimer’s Association
- Alzheimer’s Disease International