June is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month, making it the perfect opportunity to talk about brain health and dementia. More than 6 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s and it kills more people than breast and prostate cancer combined. Since 2014, The Alzheimer’s Association has declared June as Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month to help garner attention and understanding about the disease and show support for those dealing with it. This also serves as a time to recognize the contributions of caregivers and the support they provide to those living with Alzheimer’s.
What is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?
While you may see the terms “Alzheimer’s” and “dementia” used interchangeably, it’s important to understand the difference. Alzheimer’s is one type of dementia. Dementia is a more general term that refers to a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. There are many different types of dementia and many different conditions that can cause it. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease and is the most common cause of dementia.
Though aging is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, this condition is not a normal part of aging. Instead, it is caused by damage to brain cells that affects the ability to communicate, which can affect thinking, behavior and feelings. The Alzheimer’s Association has a great resource for understanding how Alzheimer’s impacts the brain.
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease at this time. However, understanding the stages of the condition and recognizing early warning signs can help those facing Alzheimer’s, and their families, feel informed and educated about their options.
Early Signs of Alzheimer’s
Dementia like Alzheimer’s causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills and can ultimately lead to death. Knowing the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s can help individuals get diagnosed early and better prepare for dealing with the condition. If you notice any of these signs, talk to your doctor:
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Decreased or poor judgment
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace your steps
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Changes in mood and personality
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
With early detection of Alzheimer’s, you can explore care options and treatments that may provide some relief of symptoms, helping to maintain independence longer.
Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Because Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease, it typically progresses in stages — early, middle and late (or mild, moderate and severe). It is important to note that the condition can affect people in different ways, so symptoms and stages may differ from person to person.
Early-stage Alzheimer's (mild)
During the early stage of Alzheimer's, a person may still be able to function independently. They may still drive, work and be part of social activities. Many symptoms may not be obvious at this stage, but family and close friends may notice some common difficulties that signal something is wrong.
Common symptoms in early-stage Alzheimer’s include:
- Increased trouble with planning or organizing
- Difficulty performing normal tasks in social or work settings
- Forgetting something that was just read
- Losing or misplacing things
- Difficulty remembering names when introduced to new people
- Difficulty coming up with right words or names for common things
During this stage, it is a good time to discuss end-of-life care as well as legal and financial matters. The person diagnosed with dementia will still be able to participate in these conversations and help make important decisions for their affairs. End-of-life care conversations can be difficult, Hospice of Southwest Ohio offers resources that can help.
Middle-stage Alzheimer's (moderate)
The longest stage of Alzheimer’s is the middle stage. This stage can last for many years as the disease progresses and the person will require a greater level of care. Symptoms become more prevalent during this stage.
Middle-stage Alzheimer’s symptoms include:
- Confusion about where they are or what day it is
- Tendencies to wander or get lost
- Forgetting events or personal history
- Having trouble controlling bladder and bowel
- Personality and behavioral changes, like suspiciousness and delusions
- Forgetting personal information like addresses and phone numbers
- Difficulty choosing clothes for occasions or dressing appropriately for the weather
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Feeling moody or withdrawn, especially in challenging situations
- Compulsive, repetitive behavior like fidgeting or hand-wringing
Even with increased symptoms, people in the middle-stage of Alzheimer’s can still handle daily activities with assistance. Now is a good time to try to simplify their daily tasks to allow as much independence as possible. As care increases, consider respite care to allow primary caregivers a break without an interruption in care. Hospice of Southwest Ohio offers respite care in our Care Center.
Late-stage Alzheimer's (severe)
The final, most pronounced, stage of Alzheimer’s is considered the late stage. At this point, the disease has progressed to the point that symptoms are severe and memory and cognitive skills continue to worsen. Individuals with late-stage Alzheimer’s need extensive care.
- Difficulty communicating
- Inability to perform daily personal care without round-the-clock assistance
- Vulnerability to infections, especially pneumonia
- Changes in physical abilities, like walking, sitting and swallowing
- Loss of awareness of recent events and surroundings
Caring for someone with late-stage Alzheimer’s can be extremely demanding, especially as the person loses their ability to move on their own. During this stage, caregivers may want to enlist the assistance of hospice care to focus on providing comfort at the end of life. Hospice of Southwest Ohio can help bring life back to a patient’s final days and can provide emotional and spiritual support for families as they grieve. Learn more about hospice eligibility for dementia patients and compassionate care services from Hospice of Southwest Ohio.
Hospice Southwest of Ohio is Here For You
For patients dealing with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, palliative and hospice care can help to manage symptoms and increase quality of life. Both Carebridge Services and Hospice of Southwest Ohio are made up of multidisciplinary teams of healthcare professionals and volunteers who work together to help patients bring life back to their final days.
At Hospice of Southwest Ohio, we’re proud to be your hometown hospice choice. We have an amazing team of professionals who are passionate about delivering high-quality, compassionate care every day. HSWO offers hospice, palliative and in-home primary care in and around the greater Cincinnati area in Clermont County, Butler County, Warren County and Hamilton County. Call today at (513) 770-0820.