First, there is the initial shock of the Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Your parent has the disease now and you have no idea what to expect. While you come to terms with the new reality of your parent’s illness, you will undoubtedly have questions about what is to come.
How to Adjust to the Progression of Alzheimer’s
Read on for our advice on how to adjust — both emotionally and practically — to the progression of the disease:
Stages 1–3: Mild
There are seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease, ranging from normal brain health (Stage 1) to very severe (Stage 7). The Alzheimer’s Association reports that it takes an average of four to eight years — sometimes much longer — for an individual to progress from diagnosis to the final stage.
The very mild stage (Stage 2) is not much different from normal signs of aging. Dad may have forgotten why he walked into a room or Mom may be regularly misplacing her glasses. But the increasing frequency of these occurrences is a sign of things to come.
The mild memory loss (Stage 3) will become more worrisome. Your parent may forget to keep appointments, have difficulty remembering people’s names, become increasingly confused and lose the thread of conversation.
How You Can Help:
As your parent adjusts to living with Alzheimer’s, they may insist they don’t need help. It’s still a good idea to check in more often and be available when they do need your assistance. Encourage your parent to get all of their legal paperwork in order, such as creating an advance directive, designating general durable and healthcare powers of attorney, preparing HIPAA authorization forms and updating their will to ensure it is done in accordance with their wishes.
Also, make sure to savor your time together. Go out to dinner. Host a family reunion. Take in a ballgame or play. Don’t put off until tomorrow the good times you can have today.
Stage 4: Moderate
A moderate decline is when Alzheimer’s begins to have a major effect on your parent’s life. You may notice that Dad gets lost driving to once-familiar places or Mom is having lapses in judgment. In some cases, memory lapses can be dangerous, such as forgetting to turn off the stove or leaving the water running in the bathtub.
Your parent may also begin experiencing changes in behavior. Dad might become depressed as the reality of the disease begins to sink in and Mom could become frustrated by her forgetfulness.
How You Can Help:
Assist your parent with regular tasks, such as buying groceries, cleaning the house, managing their medications and paying bills. If safety becomes an issue, arrange for in-home assistance.
Be kind and patient with your parent. Keep them active and energized by continuing to plan various activities that help them live in the now.
Stages 5-7: Severe
The last stages of Alzheimer’s are difficult for both the caregiver and parent. In a moderately severe decline (Stage 5), individuals experience greater confusion and forgetfulness and are at greater risk of wandering. Sometime between this stage and severe decline (Stage 6), they will need round-the-clock care and help with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing, getting dressed and eating.
Your parent will experience a very severe decline, including loss of mobility, the ability to speak and even the ability to swallow in (Stage 7) the final stage of the disease.
How You Can Help:
Do what you can to assist your parent, but recognize when you need to turn to others for help. Often families realize that a memory care community is the best place to meet a parent’s needs. Through these final stages, it’s important to be there for your loved one, holding their hand, offering comfort and love.
Don’t only take care of your parent — also take care of yourself. Talk to mental health professionals if you need help during this difficult time.
About the Author
Diane Franklin is a freelance writer and editor who writes regularly about senior living and healthcare. She has also written hundreds of articles for business and trade publications, including leading magazines for the credit union and retail paint industries.
Are you a caregiver who has had experience with the progression of Alzheimer’s? We’d like you to add your tips on how to compassionately and effectively face the disease in the comments below.