Understanding Alzheimer’s and Its Different Stages

It can be hard to see your loved one deal with their Alzheimer’s symptoms and even harder for someone in the early stages. If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it’s essential to know the stages, symptoms, how to manage them, and what to expect in the future.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s
You might have heard dementia and Alzheimer’s used interchangeably. That’s because Alzheimer’s is a kind of dementia. There are many different diseases that can cause dementia, Alzheimer’s being one of them. Dementia is a brain disorder that causes memory and thinking skills to deteriorate over time.

According to the National Institute on Aging, it’s estimated that more than six million people have Alzheimer’s. Most people who develop Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. Alzheimer’s is ranked as the seventh most common cause of death in the United States and the most common cause of dementia.

What Causes Alzheimer’s?
The cause of Alzheimer’s is still being studied, but researchers are looking into possible hypotheses. One hypothesis is that Alzheimer’s is the result of age-related changes to the brain in the form of damaged blood vessels or inflammation. Another hypothesis suggests that the cause is genetic. It’s common for people who have a family history of Alzheimer’s to develop it when they are older. Scientists are also looking into the possibility of Alzheimer’s and its connection to pollutants, obesity, diabetes, and stroke.

Alzheimer’s Effects on the Brain
Researchers are still learning exactly what this disease does to the brain, but there is a lot of neuroscientists do know. The changes in the brain begin well before the symptoms appear. In the brain, there are abnormal build-ups of proteins, and once-healthy neurons begin to stop functioning. The deterioration of the brain starts in the parts that form memories. As more and more neurons die, the brain begins to shrink. During the final stage of Alzheimer’s, widespread damage has caused the brain to shrink significantly.

The Different Stages of Alzheimer’s
The progression of Alzheimer’s is split up into three different stages. These stages depend on the severity of symptoms present. The symptoms in the first stage of Alzheimer’s are usually what leads to the initial diagnosis. The length of the stages depends on how quickly the disease progresses. Those who are younger can live up to ten years with Alzheimer’s, while those 80 or older usually only live three or four years. When a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they can receive end-of-life care, such as palliative care and hospice care, depending on the stage of the disease and how they respond to treatment options.

The three stages of Alzheimer’s are as follows:

#1. Beginning Stage Symptoms
This stage of the disease starts with memory loss that often appears gradual to the family. The symptoms in this stage of Alzheimer’s include memory loss and cognitive difficulties. You might notice that your loved one is repeating questions, getting lost, taking longer with everyday tasks, and are experiencing changes to their personality and behavior.

#2. Middle Stage Symptoms
During the middle stage of Alzheimer’s, the person with the disease begins to struggle with recognizing friends and family. This is when the parts of the brain that control reasoning, language, and conscious thought are damaged. Your loved one may be unable to learn new things, cope with new situations, or correctly detect sounds and smells. It’s also possible for them to have hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia.

#3. Late Stage Symptoms
During the last and final stage of Alzheimer’s, the person is no longer able to communicate. At this time, the person is completely dependent on other people’s care. During this stage, the person with the disease will mostly be bedridden as their body begins to shut down.

Treatment for Alzheimer’s
Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are medications that people with Alzheimer’s can take that can manage symptoms. The medications work best for people in the beginning in middle stages of the disease. Alongside medication, doctors also coach those with Alzheimer’s on coping strategies that can help manage the behavioral symptoms. Researchers are also looking into drug and non-drug therapies that could possibly delay or prevent the disease.

What Caretakers Can Do
If your loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they will need you to help them the best that you can. In the early stages, you can help your loved one with memory tasks, such as writing them notes, adding important dates to a calendar, and helping them to remember their medication. You can also help them make regular appointments with doctors and keep in contact with them about the progression of symptoms. As the disease progresses, you can start planning for the long-term, such as writing up a will and planning for end-of-life care.

If you would like to learn more about Alzheimer’s or how we can help you or a loved one, call us today at (512) 243-5852.