Alzheimer's Stages: Charting The Course Of A Devastating DiseaseAlzheimer's Stages: Charting The Course Of A Devastating Disease

My Aunty May (not her real name) is in long term care, suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Looking back, it's obvious the Alzheimer's started many years ago. What appeared to be paranoia about the neighbors was the first sign though for my cousins didn't realize the truth until her memory and faculties deteriorated further.

Learning about the stages of Alzheimer's prepared us for what would happen to Aunty May. Alzheimer's is a distressing disease, and it allowed us to prepare emotionally. My cousins were able to make decisions for their Mom's future. They were able to look at treatments, and to make decisions for legal issues including power of attorney, for caring, and ultimately for what nursing home to use.

An early diagnosis gives the chance and the incentive to fight the disease, so that it can be slowed down or even halted. In Aunty May's case, diagnosis was too late to make a significant difference.

So what are the stages of Alzheimer's disease? What can be expected with this distressing and devastating disease?

There are several different classification systems for the stages of Alzheimer's. Originally a 3 stage classification was used, but as more became known about Alzheimer's some doctors and researchers decided a four stage classification gave more detail. Since then 5, 6 and 7 stage classifications have been used.

The stages of Alzheimer's are complicated even more by the fact that the disease doesn't progress at the same rate in everyone, and that different people may be showing different symptoms. A sufferer could be in stage one and show some of the signs of stage two.

The four stage classification used by many medical practitioners is based on cognitive and functional impairment going from mild to moderate, severe, and finally profound.

The first stage of Alzheimer's is mild cognitive impairment. At this stage the impairment is only noticeable by the sufferers and their families. In fact sufferers will often deny that there is a problem, and try to cover up their forgetfulness. Shrinkage of the brain is occurring, and there is damage to the area where short term memories are converted to long term memories.

Symptoms in the first stage are often mistaken as just age related.

In stage two (moderate) the signs are becoming more apparent, but still may only be noticed by the sufferer and people they're close to. The sufferer can still appear to be healthy. New facts and new memories are affected more than older facts and memories. There can be some problems with fine motor tasks, and there can be language problems such as a reduced vocabulary, though the sufferer can still communicate basic ideas adequately.

Stage three is more severe, and there is no doubt that the sufferer has problems. There can be agitation and wandering away from home, and there must be a higher level of care for the person. Memory problems get worse with the long term memory becoming affected, and the sufferer can even fail to recognize close relatives. Motor problems become worse, and so does the loss of vocabulary. There can be aggression and urinary incontinence. At some stage the sufferer has to be moved into long-term care facilities.

Aunty May is in stage three at the moment. She has her own room in the care facilities, and she appears content, though it's quite sad for my cousins if she fails to recognize them when they visit.

In stage four of Alzheimer's, the sufferer is approaching death. They are completely dependent on their caregivers, they have trouble communicating and they lose control of their minds and their bodily functions. The sufferer's immune system becomes quite weak ultimately resulting in death not from Alzheimer's itself, but from another disease.

If there is one ray of light with this terrible disease, it's that studies show that it is possible to change the course of Alzheimer's. You can slow down or even halt the disease. Apart from medication, changes to diet, using supplements, and doing physical and mental exercise can all help fight and prevent Alzheimer's.

It's important to have an early diagnosis though. The sooner treatment is started the better the results are likely to be. So if you suspect you have Alzheimer's disease, don't ignore it or go into denial. See your doctor. It's possible your symptoms are not the early stages of Alzheimer's but something less serious. If you do have Alzheimer's, start treatment.

It was too late for Aunty May. It doesn't have to be too late for you.
by Warren Newson
References and Bibliography
Warren Newson is editor of about-alzheimers.com, a website with Alzheimer's information, that shows natural Alzheimer's treatments to fight and prevent this terrible disease. It also has symptoms, diagnosing Alzheimer's and medications used to treat Alzheimer's disease.
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