Caring for a family member or friend who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia can be challenging. Your role as a caregiver will change as the person’s dementia progresses. Becoming well-informed about the disease process and understanding the potential impact on your caregiving role is important. The following information is specific to Alzheimer’s disease, but may also be applicable to other forms of dementia.
The Stages of Alzheimer's Disease
Typically, Alzheimer’s disease progresses gradually in three general stages; early, middle, and late, where symptoms worsen over time. As the disease progresses, the specific symptoms a loved one may experience will vary. Learn more in this article.
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a person is just beginning to experience changes in memory. The person can continue to participate in social activities and often still make decisions about his or her care. Common symptoms may include forgetfulness and mild changes in the ability to think and learn new information. A person can usually function independently in this stage. Family and friends may notice subtle changes; however, to an outsider, the disease may not be noticeable. As a caregiver, your role is important to provide support and help the person plan for their future.
Middle-stage Alzheimer’s is generally the longest stage, during which the person’s ability to function independently becomes more difficult. Typically, people begin to need more assistance with activities of daily living like bathing and dressing. You may notice changes in behavior, mood, or personality, such as depression, anxiety, irritability, and repetition. Other changes may occur, such as sleep changes, physical and verbal outbursts, and wandering. It will be important for a loved one to have increased support and supervision during this time. Your caregiving responsibilities may become more demanding.
The final stage of the disease process can last several months to several years. As the disease advances, the person with Alzheimer’s will eventually need full-time help with personal care and may experience increased difficulty with walking, communication, and swallowing.
During this time, it is important to honor the wishes of a person with Alzheimer's disease. End-of-life care decisions can be difficult and should occur while the person with dementia still has the capacity to make decisions about life-sustaining treatment. For more information read our article on palliative and hospice care.