Leroy, 82, is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Marilyn, his wife, noticed that he was having increasing problems remembering what he was doing and where he was going. Leroy manages the couple’s finances, and he missed several payments in a row. This behavior prompted a visit to a neurologist, medical testing, and a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, a year ago. Leroy’s become more irritable and defensive lately, especially when Marilyn questions him.
For the most part, Leroy can care for himself, but Marilyn is hesitant to leave him alone in the home. For the last several months, she hasn’t gone anywhere or done anything without Leroy by her side. It is starting to wear on her. Before his diagnosis, she was very socially active. She misses having lunch with her friends.
What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia. It affects memory, thinking, and behavior. As the disease progresses, symptoms become severe enough to interfere with daily activities, and eventually, the ability to converse and respond to people and triggers in the environment is lost.
The Alzheimer’s Association lists the following as the ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s dementia:
- Memory loss that disrupts the ability to function in daily life activities
- Changes in the ability to plan or solve problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Losing track of time and place
- Difficulty understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- Difficulty in finding appropriate words and participating in a conversation
- Misplacing objects
- Changes in or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from previously enjoyable work or social activities
- Changes in mood or personality
What causes Alzheimer’s dementia?
The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are multifactorial and not fully understood, meaning it is likely a combination of environmental and lifestyle factors and a genetic predisposition that increases a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is caused by an abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain over time. Amyloid plaques accumulate in the spaces between nerve cells in the brain. Inside the nerve cells, tau protein tangles form.
How long can you live with Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is now the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for an estimated 121,499 deaths in 2019. On average, a person with Alzheimer’s disease lives between four and eight years after diagnosis. However, everyone is different, and some people have lived for as long as 20 years.
Most people with Alzheimer’s disease pass through three broad stages of symptoms. These stages can overlap, and the progression through each stage can vary.
In the early stage, people with Alzheimer’s disease may have difficulty with some tasks. They may still be able to participate in work and social activities. Some people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease will start to withdraw as they have difficulty conversing.
Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages is characterized by difficulty with:
- Coming up with an appropriate word or name
- Carrying out previously familiar tasks
- Remembering what you have been told or read
- Misplacing and losing belongings
- Planning daily activities or staying organized
As dementia progresses and personality changes occur, the middle stage of Alzheimer’s can be long-lasting and difficult for family and caregivers.
Symptoms associated with the middle stage of Alzheimer’s include experiencing:
- Confusion and forgetfulness
- Urinary and bowel incontinence
- Poor sleeping habits and insomnia
- Changes in personality and mood
- A need for help to take care of personal needs
Leroy is in the middle stage of Alzheimer’s disease. So far, Marilyn has not noticed any changes in his personality or mood. He is prone to forgetfulness and frequently becomes confused. For example, Leroy will sometimes turn on the oven or stove and then walk away. Marilyn has installed safety locks on the burners to prevent a fire.
Marilyn is finding it physically and emotionally exhausting to care for Leroy. She is opposed to placing him in a nursing facility. Marilyn and Leroy have been married for more than 50 years. They swore to each other that they would do everything in their power to remain in their home as a couple.
What are the final stages of Alzheimer’s?
In the late stages of Alzheimer’s, individuals lose their ability to respond to their surroundings, carry on a conversation, or control their bodies. Many people in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease completely withdraw.
How can you tell if someone with Alzheimer’s is dying?
Recognizing when someone is dying when they have Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult because of their inability to express themselves with either speech or movement.
Symptoms that are commonly seen in people who are nearing death include:
- A lack of interest in eating or drinking
- Difficulty swallowing
- A gaunt appearance
- Agitation or restlessness
- An increased need for sleep and reduced awareness
- Changes in breathing patterns
- Glassy eyes
- Periods of confusion alternating with outbursts
The leading cause of death in people with Alzheimer’s disease is pneumonia due to aspiration. An inability to control swallowing allows saliva to enter the lungs. Another common cause of death is decubitus ulcers that develop when a person cannot change position in bed and their skin breaks down and becomes infected.
How fast does Alzheimer’s dementia progress?
Each individual’s progression through Alzheimer’s disease can vary.
Approximate lengths of time for each stage:
- Early stage: 2 to 4 years
- Middle stage: 2 to 10 years
- Late stage: 1 to 3 years
How can home healthcare help you manage your loved one’s Alzheimer’s disease?
Approximately 80% of people living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias do so in their own homes. Caregivers provide care for family members with dementia for a longer period of time than caregivers for family members with any other disease.
Over half of caregivers will provide care for a family member for four years or longer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately 63% of caregivers anticipate providing care for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease for five years or more.
Sunland Home Care & Nursing can help families like Leroy and Marilyn.
Sunland Home Care and Medical can:
- Provide companionship and conversation
- Accompany your loved ones to day care programs
- Assist with personal hygiene and grooming
- Assist with remembering taking medications and eating
- Prepare meals
- Do light housekeeping
- Provide transportation to social events and medical appointments
- Do wellness checks
- Assess fall risk
- Identify social services and programs that can help
- Answer questions about dementia
- Address emotional concerns for the caregiver and recipient of care