The seven stages of Alzheimer's are helpful in finding the words to discuss Alzheimer's. Caregivers find them particularly useful in support groups, as well as in conversations with doctors and other professionals.
Although the progression of Alzheimer's disease can be slowed down today thanks to today's medications, it cannot as of yet be stopped. The process is described in general terms as going through 3 steps Mild Alzheimer’sModerate Alzheimer’sSevere Alzheimer’s. For more meaningful terms between professionals, caregivers and patients, a more detailed process has been characterized in seven stages. The seven stages are based on a system developed by Barry Reisberg, M.D., clinical director of the New York University School of Medicine’s Silberstein Aging and Dementia Research Center. STAGE 1 – NORMALThis system calls a mentally healthy person at any age “Stage 1”. No memory problemsNo problems with orientationNo problems with judgmentNo difficulties with communication skillsNo problems with daily activitiesSTAGE 2 – NORMAL AGED FORGETFULNESSMore than half of all people ages 65 and older complain of cognitive difficulties. This is considered a normal part of aging. Occasional lapses in memory, usually undetectable to family and friendsSlight cognitive problems, also undetectable to friends and family, might also not be visible on medical examSTAGE 3 – MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENTAt this point, there are mild changes in memory, communication skills and/or behavior, noticeable to family members and friends. Symptoms might be picked up by an alert physician. Many people will not decline further than this point. Notwithstanding, a majority do progress to Mild Alzheimer’s within two to four years. Problems remembering names, words for objectsDifficulties functioning at work and in social settingsProblems remembering newly-read materialMisplacing important items with increasing frequencyDecline in organizational skills and the ability to planRepeating questions and evident anxietySTAGE 4 – MILD ALZHEIMER’SCognitive symptoms are more obvious now. A neurologist can confidently diagnose Alzheimer's disease and treat it with medications that have been proven effective in slowing it down. Difficulty remembering personal details, recent eventsSome confusion possible (ie: might put towel in fridge)Impaired mathematical ability, financial management (trouble managing a checkbook – for those who did not have trouble managing one before)Social withdrawalMoodiness, depressionSTAGE 5 – MODERATE ALZHEIMER'SThis is the stage at which it is not possible for a person with Alzheimer's to live alone. Severe memory loss, e.g., may not remember basic personal contact information such as current address or phone numberDisorientation (not knowing the day/date/season, and/or location/country/state/city)No longer safe to cook, even if the sufferer can manage or remember the logistics of the process, due to severe short-term memory difficulties and confusionWandering risk; might get lost once leaving the homeDecreased personal hygiene skillsIncreased desire to sleep is commonSTAGE 6 – MODERATELY SEVERE ALZHEIMER'SIt is at this stage that family members often suffer the most, because the loved one with Alzheimer's loses much of the ability to recognize those around him or her, even a spouse, sibling, parent or child. Personality changes are common as well. Severe memory loss continues to intensifyWithdrawal from surroundingsWanderingReduced awareness of recent eventsProblems recognizing loved ones, although it is still possible to differentiate between those who are familiar and those who are not"Sundowning", if it has not yet begun, makes its appearance at this point – this is the phenomenon of increased restlessness and agitation toward sundown (hence the name), in the late afternoon and evening hoursBathroom management becomes difficult; at this stage it often is necessary to switch to diapers due to incontinence, wetting and other such problems using the bathroom independentlyParanoia, suspiciousnessShadowing, extreme anxiety, following a loved one around the house due to fears of being aloneRepetitive, compulsive behavior (verbal and/or nonverbal)STAGE 7 – SEVERE ALZHEIMER'SThis is the final stage of Alzheimer's disease, at which the long goodbye comes to an end. Even though the Alzheimer's person may somewhere inside really hear and understand what is being said, he or she can no longer respond, other than possibly to speak a word or phrase. Communication is very limitedPhysical systems begin to deteriorateGross motor coordination shuts down, may not be able to sitSwallowing may become difficult, choking is a riskThe last stage of Alzheimer's disease, as with any other illness, is a very individual matter and no two journeys end the same way. People with Alzheimer’s seem to experience little physical pain. What is certain, however, is that every Alzheimer's journey ends – as does every other. May they all be peaceful and pain free.
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