Dementia Series: The Early Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
For each individual, Alzheimer’s disease progresses at a different rate.
In the last article in the eFuneral Dementia Series, I talked about a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment where individuals experience problems with memory, language, thinking, and judgment. Again, a diagnosis of MCI does not mean that individuals will necessarily go on to be diagnosed with a progressive form of dementia. However, those individuals are at higher risk.
Today, I want to delve into four of the seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease: no impairment, very mild, mild, and moderate. Understanding these early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease will help those diagnosed and their caregivers in knowing what to expect and what resources are out there to support you.
The Early Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the following are the first four stages of Alzheimer’s disease:
- No Impairment: This stage occurs before there is even a hint of mental decline, when there is no issue with a person’s memory, judgment, thinking, or language abilities.
- Very Mild: This stage may include some memory issues – such as forgetting a word or losing an item- that may not even be noticeable by others.
- Mild: Mild dementia can include symptoms such as forgetfulness, losing valuable items, or difficulty finding the correct word, which may become more noticeable by others. An individual may have increased difficulty in social setting or in work settings that involve organizing and planning.
- Moderate: Moderate dementia is noticeable to others, as individuals will have increased difficulty remembering recent events or details of their life, planning, and keeping track of finances. The individual may try to cover up with humor or withdrawal from the situation.
Watch HBO’s Alzheimer’s Project: The Memory Loss Tapes to see seven different individuals experiencing the different stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Making Advance Plans
Since dementia is a progressive disease, initially the symptoms come on slowly and sporadically. Individuals in the early stages of dementia have lucid moments where they are able to function normally and make sound decisions. In the early stages of dementia, the family may want to talk with their loved one about reviewing/creating important legal documents about financial and health decisions. Financial documents may include an estate plan that names a durable power of attorney and includes a will. Healthcare documents include advance directives that name a power of attorney for healthcare and a living will.
Deciding on Care Options
As Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, there may come a time when an individual may no longer be able to safely live in his or her home. Assisted Living may be a good option for someone experiencing the beginning stages of the disease such as forgetfulness, changes in self-care, increased communication difficulties, and increased difficulty with completing household tasks. When looking for an assisted living facility, ask about a locked memory unit for anticipated progression to help with wandering and to provide increased supervision as well as a continuum of care so that the individual will not have to move multiple times and meet all new staff and patients.
This type of dementia can last anywhere from a few years to over a decade. Therefore, a long-term care facility that accepts Medicaid may be a good choice in case your loved one were to run low on funds.
For more information and tips on caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease, visit ALZ.org.
This article was written for eFuneral's Online Resource Center by Chelsea Gumucio, eFuneral’s Liaison Social Worker. Chelsea is a State of Ohio-Licensed Independent Social Worker with experience working as an advocate, educator, and counselor. She previously served as an Alternative Home Care Hospice Social Worker in Cleveland, Ohio. Those thinking about end-of-life should visit eFuneral for help researching, planning, and arranging a wide variety of funeral-related services.