Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60-80 percent of dementia cases. Right now, it’s estimated more than five million Americans are living with the disease. Alzheimer’s is a slow, fatal disease of the brain which typically begins by destroying brain cells where memories are formed. The disease is caused by plaques and tangles, abnormal protein fragments that accumulate in the brain, though we don’t exactly understand why.
Common Warning Signs
- Memory loss
- Trouble planning or problem solving
- Difficulty completing normal tasks at home, work or leisure
- Difficulty understanding spatial relationships
- Trouble with words or speaking
- Poor judgment
- Changes in mood or personality
- Withdrawing socially
What Is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia which affects memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s develop slowly, but progressively worsen over time. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but treatment for symptoms is available to improve a person’s quality of life. Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed through a complete medical assessment including a thorough medical history, mental status testing and physical and neurological exams, and other tests to rule out other causes of dementia-like symptoms.
What Should I Expect As A Caregiver
For caregivers, understanding common behavior changes of someone living with Alzheimer’s is important. A person with Alzheimer’s may need help with planning their day and remembering appointments, or even simple tasks like dressing and bathing. As the disease progresses, a person with Alzheimer’s may become frustrated, anxious or embarrassed by their cognitive decline. A caregiver may need to provide emotional and physical support, as well as encouragement. Individuals with Alzheimer’s may become restless, experience rapid mood swings, or wander. Knowing how to balance a person’s safety and independence becomes more difficult as the disease progresses.
Seven Stages Of Alzheimer's
The following stages help provide a general idea of how the disease will affect certain abilities. The seven-stage framework is based on a system developed by Barry Reisberg, M.D., clinical director of the NYU School of Medicine’s Silberstein Aging and Dementia Research Center.
There is no sign of memory problems, and an interview with a medical professional does not reveal any signs of dementia.
Very Mild Cognitive Decline
There may be some awareness of memory lapse—forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects. However, no symptoms of dementia are detected by friends, family or co-workers.
Mild Cognitive Decline
Early-stage Alzheimer’s can be diagnosed in some, but not all individuals. Friends, family and coworkers notice difficulty. Doctors may be able to detect problems in memory or concentration.
- Noticeable problems coming up with the right word or name.
- Trouble remembering names when introduced to new people.
- Having noticeably greater difficulty performing tasks in social or work settings.
- Forgetting material that one has just read.
- Losing or misplacing a valuable object.
- Increasing trouble with planning or organizing.
Moderate Cognitive Decline
At this stage, a careful interview should reveal clear-cut symptoms in several areas.
- Forgetfulness of recent events.
- Impaired ability to perform challenging mental arithmetic—for example, counting backward from 100 by 7s.
- Greater difficulty performing complex tasks, such as planning dinner for guests, paying bills or managing finances.
- Forgetfulness about one's own personal history.
- Becoming moody or withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations.
Moderately Severe Cognitive Decline
Gaps in memory and thinking have become noticeable, and help is needed with day-to-day activities. At this stage, those suffering from Alzheimer’s may:
- Be unable to recall their own address or telephone number or the high school or college from which they graduated.
- Become confused about where they are or what day it is.
- Have trouble with less challenging mental arithmetic; such as counting backward from 40 by subtracting 4s or from 20 by 2s.
- Need help choosing proper clothing for the season or the occasion.
- Still remember significant details about themselves and their family.
- Still require no assistance with eating or using the toilet.
Severe Cognitive Decline
Memory continues to worsen, personality changes may occur and individuals need extensive help with daily activities. At this stage, those suffering from Alzheimer’s may:
- Lose awareness of recent experiences as well as of their surroundings.
- Remember their own name but have difficulty with their personal history.
- Distinguish familiar and unfamiliar faces but have trouble remembering the name of a spouse or caregiver.
- Need help dressing properly and may, without supervision, make mistakes such as putting pajamas over daytime clothes or shoes on the wrong feet.
- Experience major changes in sleep patterns—sleeping during the day and becoming restless at night.
- Need help handling details of going to the toilet (for example, flushing the toilet, wiping or disposing of tissue properly).
- Have increasingly frequent trouble controlling their bladder or bowels.
- Experience major personality and behavioral changes, including suspiciousness and delusions (such as believing that their caregiver is an impostor) or compulsive, repetitive behavior such as hand-wringing or tissue shredding.
- Tend to wander or become lost.
Very Severe Cognitive Decline
At the end, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, converse with others and control movement. Eating and swallowing become difficult. They will need help with their personal care, including walking and using the toilet. They may also lose the ability to smile, to sit without support and to hold their heads up. Muscles grow rigid.
How Can We Help?
Meeting the demands of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult and seem impossible. At Arden Courts, memory care is all we do. We offer the following services dedicated to those living with memory impairments, their family members, caregivers and health care professionals.
- Support, education and information for caregivers and family members
- An environment that helps to keep residents safe and as independent as possible
- Staff specially trained on caring for residents living with memory loss
- Structured, engaging programs, ongoing throughout the day, seven days a week
- Programs personalized for all levels of dementia and focused on what the resident can do, capitalizing on lifelong experiences and familiar routines
Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease (EOAD)
Our Resident's Story
All her adult life, Violet loved spending time in her garden. She looked forward to retirement and the chance to take a Master Gardening course. She was just 55 when her doctor diagnosed her with EOAD. Her husband still worked full-time and he worried about her safety when he wasn’t at home. Violet’s family also longed to keep her connected to people and her flowers. When she first moved to Arden Courts, Violet rarely came out of her room and insisted, “I don’t belong with those people.” Learn more below about how our programming helped Violet.
The staff at Arden Courts patiently built a relationship with Violet while nurturing her love of plants. They filled her room with houseplants and gave her a gardening plot on the grounds which she maintained with the staff’s help. Many days, staff members provided her with bundles of fresh flowers for her to arrange.
Violet eventually grew comfortable interacting with “those people” in small groups. She found friends who shared her interest in gardening. She could no longer write, but she liked to listen, especially to talks related to gardening topics. Her small group gave her a chance to express her opinions and share her gardening experiences in a safe and friendly environment.
As Violet’s disease progressed, she visited large group programming more often as a break from wandering. The music and laughter enticed her and she would stay for 45 minutes or more. Her circle of friends became wider and she enjoyed the safety and comfort of others.
Violet eventually became unstable while walking and less able to interact with others. She transitioned to Namaste Care where programming is designed to be slower and sensory based. She enjoys looking out the window at the breeze blowing the branches while listening to soothing music. In addition, she finds pleasure in smelling fresh flowers and looking through a specially-made scrapbook of all her favorite flowers.