The Alzheimer's Progression: Knowing When To Transition Care

Posted on: 20 February 2015

When your parent or loved one is diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, you may not fully understand what that term means. Alzheimer's, after all, is usually popularly misconstrued as a general term for dementia among the elderly. However, it is actually much more specific and problematic. In order to properly provide care for your parent or loved one with Alzheimer's disease, you need to understand the mechanics of Alzheimer's and the progression that it goes through. That way you will know when to help your loved one to transition from home care to assisted living, and can keep them safe and well cared for in the process. 

What Is Alzheimer's Exactly?

First, in order to understand how to care for a person with Alzheimer's as it progresses, you need to understand what Alzheimer's actually is. Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative brain disease that causes problems with memory, awareness, suspicions and paranoia, and the like.

It is caused by bundles of proteins in the brain that are called amyloid plaques which in turn cause other protein tangles in the brain. These plaque deaden nerves in the brain, and spread throughout the brain tissue over time causing more and more brain degeneration and memory loss. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's and scientists are still trying to understand why these proteins begin forming bundles and tangles and how to stop this process. 

What Is Early Alzheimer's Disease Like?

The early stages of Alzheimer's usually involve the type of dementia that people notice the most often in people as they age. Your loved one will start forgetting information that has been recently learned and committed to their short-term memory. This stage can often be confused with general forgetfulness or may go unnoticed for quite a while. 

However, as the early stages progress, your loved one may forget important information, like where they work (if they changed jobs recently), their appointments, the routes to important locations, or even how to navigate around their own home. This is when the disease is progressing through the early stages and into the middle stages of Alzheimer's.

When your loved one is diagnosed in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, home care is still appropriate for their situation. However, a spouse or the occasional visit from a child or other relative may not be enough to properly care for them. Having a hired caregiver in the house at all times even just in a preventive, supervisory capacity will be extremely helpful at preventing accidents, wandering off, and possible familial altercations. Full-time home care with companies such as Hopewell In-Home Senior Care is fully optional during the early stages and depends on how much time you and your other family members can devote to assisting your loved one.

What About Middle and Late Stage Alzheimer's?

As Alzheimer's disease progresses, your loved one will begin to feel more and more disoriented and will have good and bad days as far as their memory goes. This is because the neurons in the brain will continue to try desperately to reroute themselves to access the parts of the brain that store memories and some days they will succeed better than others.

Your loved one will lose their memory in reverse order with Alzheimer's. This means that the most recently acquired memories will go first. Your loved one will no longer remember their age and will often think they are back in another stage of their life, raising kids, going to college, etc...which can be disconcerting and difficult for you. 

In the middle stages of Alzheimer's disease paranoia and aggression can spike as well as your loved one struggles to recognize their surroundings, the people around them, and the like. They will lash out because they do not understand and their brain may misfire creating false recollections and associations. It is in the middle stages that you should absolutely have a caregiver on-site 24/7 and should transition them to assisted living. As soon as aggression and prolonged periods of confusion begin, remaining at home can become very unsafe for your loved one. 

Late stages of Alzheimer's involve a loss of the ability to speak, reason, or provide self-care. Your loved one may have moments of lucidity, but they will be far and few between. They will require medical care and supervision, and will likely need assistance eating, drinking, and will be quite lethargic and essentially no longer themselves the vast majority of the time. Full-time care with medical professionals will be necessary.

Now that you better know what to expect as Alzheimer's disease progresses, you will be able to ensure your loved one gets the best care possible through all stages.