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Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is often called a family disease because the chronic stress of watching a loved one slowly decline affects everyone. To help patients and their caregivers understand the changes that occur as the disease progresses, Alzheimer’s disease  is broken into early, middle and late stages. The symptoms and progression within these stages vary from person to person.

Early Stage

People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble remembering recent events or the names of familiar people or things. They may not be able to handle their finances and tend to lose things and withdraw from social situations.

“Many express a desire to stay in their own homes as long as possible,” says Lynn Buckley, LPN, Caring Connection coordinator at Redwood Area Hospital. “This is an excellent time for Alzheimer’s patients to begin using the Caring Connection day services. Coming even one day a week can help establish familiarity with our setting and services. Later on, being in familiar surroundings will become increasingly important.”

Care giving in this stage focuses on adjusting to the diagnosis and making plans for the future. Learning as much as possible about Alzheimer’s will make care giving easier.

Middle Stage

Middle stage Alzheimer’s patients may forget how to do simple tasks like brushing their teeth or combing their hair. They begin to have problems speaking, understanding, reading or writing. They may not recognize family and friends at times. Anger, paranoia, wandering, violence, eating problems, hallucinations and incontinence may occur.

The caregiver’s role expands to full time, as patients in this stage require care or 24-hour supervision. “Caregivers need to take care of themselves,” Buckley notes. “Studies have shown that the caregiver’s condition can deteriorate more quickly than the patient’s. Using the day health program even half a day a week to take a break from the stresses of caregiving can be immensely beneficial.”

Care giving can become all-consuming as the disease progresses. Grief, depression and anger are common feelings that caregivers experience. Care giving can take a heavy toll without adequate support.

Persons with dementia typically enjoy the opportunity to be with others in a place where their needs and abilities are understood. “Attendance at Caring Connection allows the patient to be in a comfortable setting with others who understand them while giving the caregiver a temporary break from care giving responsibilities to stay in touch with friends or keep up with a hobby,” Buckley notes.

Severe Stage

Patients may lose the ability to communicate, walk, smile, swallow or participate in personal care activities. They may be unable to recognize people, places and objects. Seizures and weight loss may occur, and patients may spend the majority of time sleeping.

Patients in this stage may benefit from the addition of services, such as Hospice, in addition to the adult day health program.

“Alzheimer’s disease progression varies for each person as does their care needs,” Buckley explains. “Some participants may only require assistances with a single task such as bathing, while others require a more intensive plan in order to remain in their home.”

Help Is Available

Caring Connection at Redwood Area Hospital provides expert day services Monday through Friday for adults with chronic care issues who wish to remain in their homes.

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