According to the National Institute on Aging, an estimated 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a heart-breaking condition that causes progressive neurodegeneration, causing the patient to forget the people and things he once loved. It also robs the patient of his independence and his ability to think, remember, and reason.
Overview of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that is currently ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. This disease is the leading cause of dementia in older adults and it is a condition that slowly destroys the person’s memory and thinking skills. Eventually it progresses to the point where the patient can no longer live or function on his own. People caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s frequently remark that the disease causes the patient to lose or forget everything that makes the person who he is. This is the most heart-breaking part of the disease.
Alzheimer’s causes atrophy of the brain tissue which may begin a decade or more before any symptoms develop. When symptoms do manifest, they vary from one case to another but the general progression of the disease is similar in most cases. In most cases, symptoms develop during the mid-60s, though some people experience early-onset Alzheimer’s which can present between the age of 30 and 60.
The 7 Stages of the Disease
Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurological disorder which means that it will get worse over time. Though each case is a little bit different, most Alzheimer’s patients follow a similar progression which is listed in order below:
1. Normal Behavior – During the early stages, Alzheimer’s patients may look and act normally. The disease can only be spotted with a PET scan during this phase.
2. Mild Changes – During this stage you might start to notice subtle signs that something is not right – forgetting a word, misplacing objects and other things that do not necessarily impair the patient’s ability to live independently.
3. Mild Decline – As things progress, the patient will start to show signs of cognitive decline such as forgetting something that was just read, asking the same questions repeatedly, having trouble making plans and decisions, remembering new names and faces.
4. Moderate Decline – In this stage, the signs of mild decline noticed in the last stage become more obvious. The patient might start to forget what month it is, have trouble cooking meals, forget details about him or herself and have trouble writing. At this stage, the patient should not be allowed to drive and he may require in-home care.
5. Moderately Severe Decline – During this stage, the patient will show obvious signs of confusion and forgetfulness. He may continue to ask the same questions, to tell the same stories, and to have trouble remembering details.
6. Severe Decline – As the patient nears the final stages of Alzheimer’s he may start to experience delusions and he may need help with basic tasks like going to the bathroom. The patient may confuse people and may have trouble talking. During this stage you can help by playing music, reading to the patient, and showing him old photos.
7. Very Severe Decline – At this stage, the patient may no longer be able to recognize or remember loved ones and he will likely need help with basic tasks like eating, walking, and sitting up.
Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease, not just for the patient but for the patient’s family and support system as well. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for this horrible disease but doctors and researchers are working hard and making new discoveries each and every year.