Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia today. It is a progressive, degenerative disorder that slowly damages and ultimately destroys brain cells. This process of neurological decline eventually leads to loss of memory and the ability to think and carry out normal daily tasks.
It is estimated that as many as 5.3 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease today. According to research conducted by the National Institute on Aging, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s doubles every five years beyond the age 65. By 2050, it is projected that as many as 16 million people could have memory loss.
The Alzheimer’s Association, the Mayo Clinic and other expert sources emphasize the importance of distinguishing between what we call “senior moments” and the true signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Occasionally forgetting a name or an appointment is considered a normal part of aging, but the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are clearly not. The sooner Alzheimer’s can be identified in a loved one the better their chances for a favorable response to treatment are, thus a longer delay in the progression of symptoms, which can reduce the cost of care long term.
Alzheimer’s Primary Warning Signs
The Alzheimer’s Association article, “10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s” provides excellent information on signs and symptoms to be vigilant for. It lists the following behaviors as valid warning signs of memory loss and also distinguishes them from normal aging:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life – Forgetting current information and important events; relying on memory aides for things they used to handle routinely
Normal behavior – Forgetting a name or appointment, but remembering it later
- Confusion with time or place – Losing track of time, dates or seasons of the year; difficulty understanding something if it is not happening in the present; forgetting where you are or how you got there
Normal behavior – Getting confused about the day of the week, but eventually figuring it out
- Difficulty completing familiar activities – Challenges with driving to a familiar location; difficulty remembering the rules of a favorite game; difficulty managing a budget
Normal behavior – Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or recording a TV show
- New problems with words in speaking or writing – Difficulty in following or joining a conversation; struggling with “word finding;” calling things by the wrong name
Normal behavior – Occasionally having trouble finding the right word
- Challenges in planning or problem solving –Difficulty with creating and following a plan; trouble working with numbers; taking longer than normal to do familiar things
Normal behavior – Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook
- Failing judgment – Challenges with decision making; difficulty dealing with basic money issues
Normal behavior – Making a bad decision once in awhile
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships – Difficulty reading or judging distance; determining color, not recognizing one’s reflection in a mirror
Normal behavior – Vision changes related to cataracts or the aging eye
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps – Putting things in unusual places; inability to retrace steps to find items again; accusing others of stealing items
Normal behavior – Misplacing things from time-to-time, like a pair of glasses
- Changes in mood and personality – Depression, fear and anxiety; confusion or suspiciousness; getting easily upset
Normal behavior – Developing specific routines and becoming irritable when disrupted
- Withdrawal from work or social activities – Removing oneself from hobbies, work projects, sports, etc.; avoiding once-enjoyed social activities
Normal behavior – Sometimes feeling in need of a break from work, family and social obligations
If you notice any of these signs, either in yourself or a loved one, do not ignore them. It is important to schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Early detection can enable you to take the greatest advantage of current treatment methods.
The Stages of Memory Loss
Most experts agree that Alzheimer’s disease progresses slowly through three basic stages. These are defined as mild (early-stage), moderate (middle-stage) and severe (late-stage). It should be noted, however, that Alzheimer’s affects people in different ways. Individuals will experience Alzheimer’s in their own unique way and move through the various stages differently.
- Early-stage – During the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a person may still drive, work and be part of social activities. Despite this, the person may feel as if he or she is having memory lapses, such as forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects. Friends, family or neighbors begin to notice difficulties. During a detailed medical interview, doctors may be able to detect problems in memory or concentration.
- Middle-stage – Typically, moderate Alzheimer’s is the longest stage and can last for many years. As the disease progresses, the person with Alzheimer’s will require a greater level of care. You may notice the person with Alzheimer’s confusing words, getting frustrated or angry or acting in unexpected ways, such as refusing to bathe. Damage to nerve cells in the brain can make it difficult to express thoughts and perform routine tasks.
- Late-stage – In the final stage of Alzheimer’s, individuals lose their ability to respond to the surrounding environment, to carry on a conversation and, eventually, to control movement. They may still say words or phrases, but communicating feelings of pain becomes very difficult.
Knowledge and Support Are Key for Families
Carmen Duren, Executive Director of Provident Village at Canton, says, “The more you know about Alzheimer’s disease and its progression, the better prepared you will be to cope with your loved one’s changing needs as well as your own challenges as a caregiver. According to Harvard Medical School, a person with Alzheimer’s disease might live anywhere from two to twenty years after diagnosis. Those years are spent in an increasingly dependent state that exacts a substantial emotional, physical and economic toll on caregivers and their families.
“In addition to providing the latest in proven, best-practice memory care and life-enrichment activities at Provident Village, we are also committed to reaching out to area families who have loved ones living at home with memory loss. Community education and outreach is a vital part of our mission, and we are a key resource in assisting families with whatever questions, information or support needs they have.”
Live Vibrantly! at Provident Village at Canton
At Provident Village at Canton, we believe vibrant days ensure bright tomorrows, so we’ve created a community where seniors, quite simply, Live Vibrantly! Whether it’s in our Assisted Living Community or Memory Care Neighborhood, each day we celebrate the individuality and strengths of each resident.
At Provident Village, to Live Vibrantly! means that days are filled with joy, vitality, growth and security. It means residents are socially active and personally empowered, with access to the personalized care and support they need to live fully. It means residing in a community where intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual and physical care are seamlessly integrated into everyday life.
Our compassionate Care Partners dedicate each day to enriching the lives of our residents. They customize the level of attention and activities to each resident’s specific needs and abilities. Our living environments are warm and inviting, with comfortable furnishings, beautiful fixtures and natural elements that bring the outdoors inside.