December 14, 2021
When a parent or loved one begins to make forgetful mistakes, you may start wondering about the line between normal memory loss that comes with age and a more concerning memory problem, like Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
Early intervention has many benefits, including treatments that can help slow how Alzheimer’s progresses, so being aware of early Alzheimer’s symptoms can help you be a stronger advocate for your loved one. Ultimately, it will allow you to ensure you’re doing what you can so your loved one enjoys the greatest quality of life possible.
Forgetting things from time to time is normal, whether it’s misplaced reading glasses or stumbling over a word while telling a story. With age, those “senior moments” may grow more frequent as your loved one’s brain experiences physiological changes that slow their cognitive processing. Even so, normal memory problems shouldn’t affect your loved one’s daily life or ability to live alone safely.
It’s important to note that there are many potential causes of memory loss—and not all of them are permanent. For example, dehydration, vitamin deficiencies, and certain medications can affect memory. If those problems are corrected, memory problems may show marked improvement.
However, some other causes of memory loss are permanent and progressive.
Dementia is a broad term that refers to memory loss and related symptoms affecting a person’s daily life. Dementia is caused by cellular damage in the brain and is not a normal part of aging. Although the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s are often used interchangeably, Alzheimer’s disease is actually a specific form of dementia; about 60%-80% of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s.
While Alzheimer’s doesn’t affect everyone in exactly the same way, it does follow a typical pattern marked by stages (although the stages can overlap). As a person progresses through the stages of Alzheimer’s, symptoms evolve to deeper levels of memory loss and cognitive impairment, while autonomy decreases.
Early-stage or mild Alzheimer’s
A person can still function independently in the early stage of Alzheimer’s, although you may notice signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s like not remembering words and names, and trouble retaining new information, planning, or performing tasks to completion.
Close loved ones will likely notice changes in memory or behavior, and a doctor can use diagnostic tools to help differentiate between Alzheimer’s symptoms and other causes for memory loss.
Middle-stage or moderate Alzheimer’s
This stage is generally the longest, and Alzheimer’s symptoms are most pronounced. People with moderate Alzheimer’s require greater levels of care, and you will benefit from learning the nuances of how to converse with dementia patients since their comprehension and communication skills tend to falter.
You can expect increasing forgetfulness, including memories of their own life history and personal information. They may begin to mix up days and nights and lose track of what day or year it is. During this stage, a person with dementia becomes more prone to behaviors like wandering, and you may notice increasing moodiness, confusion, and even personality changes, which can be accompanied by agitated repetitive actions.
While this stage brings significant changes in a person’s self-sufficiency, it’s still possible for them to participate in daily activities, like person-centered programming and therapeutic wellness experiences.
Late-stage or severe Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s symptoms are most advanced in this final stage of the disease. A person with late-stage Alzheimer’s requires 24-hour care, as they lack awareness of their surroundings, have significant trouble communicating, and encounter physical changes, including an inability to control their own movement. In the last of the Alzheimer’s symptoms stages, a person also has a weakened immune system, making them more susceptible to certain illnesses, including pneumonia.
While your loved one may not be able to engage in activities at this stage, certain experiences may offer some comfort, such as music or looking at pictures.
Determining when you need additional support to care for your loved one with Alzheimer’s is a highly personal decision that depends heavily on a multitude of factors, including the type and severity of Alzheimer’s symptoms your loved one is experiencing and the extent to which you’re personally able to take on a caregiving role.
A community that specializes in memory care, such as Springpoint Living at Manalapan, provides specialized programming to help people living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia thrive. We invite you to contact or visit us and explore a safe, supportive, and secure option to protect your loved one’s quality of life.