The Onset of Alzheimer’s and How to Talk About it

The Onset of Alzheimer’s and How to Talk About it


When a senior loved one begins to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, it can leave families feeling worried, confused and downright overwhelmed. Even for spouses and adult children who sense that the diagnosis is eminent, having it confirmed can be heart-wrenching.

Alzheimer’s is a disease with no known cure and it’s difficult to predict how quickly it will progress. That’s why, it is wise to be prepared for what is likely to happen and to be able to discuss it openly with your loved one and family members before it’s too late. At the same time, it’s important to have a resource like Sunshine Retirement which has several communities that specialize in all aspects of Memory Care. They can provide answers to your questions as well as give your loved one the most compassion and best support possible 24 hours a day.

For starters, let’s learn more about the Seven Stages of Alzheimer’s disease and what to expect at each stage. (Keep in mind that many physicians and treatment facilities may condense these stages into as few as three – Mild, Moderate and Severe.)

Stage 1: No Impairment

During this stage, there may be no evidence of memory problems or other detectable symptoms of dementia. However, you may notice your loved one repeating stories and anecdotes, or making the same comments more frequently than normal.

Stage 2: Very Mild Decline

The senior may notice minor memory problems or lose things around the house, although not to the point where the memory loss can easily be distinguished from normal age-related memory loss. The person will still do well on memory tests and the disease is unlikely to be detected by loved ones or physicians.

Stage 3: Mild Decline

At this stage, the family members and friends of the senior may begin to notice cognitive problems. Performance on memory tests are affected and physicians will be able to detect impaired cognitive function. People in Stage 3 will have difficulty in many areas including:

  • inding the right word during conversations.
  • Organizing and planning simple tasks.
  • Remembering names of new acquaintances.

People with Stage 3 Alzheimer’s may also frequently lose personal possessions, from small, insignificant items to valuables.

Stage 4: Moderate Decline

At this stage, clear-cut symptoms of the disease are apparent, including:

  • Difficulty with simple arithmetic.
  • Poor short-term memory (may not recall what they ate for breakfast, for example).
  • Inability to manage finance and pay bills.
  • Forgetting details about their life histories.

Stage 5: Moderately Severe Decline

During this stage of Alzheimer’s, people begin to need help with many day-to-day activities. They may experience:

  • Difficulty dressing appropriately.
  • Inability to recall simple details about themselves such as their own phone number.
  • Significant and frequent confusion.

At the same time, people in Stage 5 maintain functionality. They typically can still bathe and toilet independently. They also usually still know their family members and some detail about their personal histories, especially their childhood and youth.

Stage 6: Severe Decline

People with the sixth stage of Alzheimer’s need constant supervision and frequently require professional care. Symptoms include:

  • Confusion or unawareness of environment and surroundings.
  • Inability to recognize faces and remember names except for the closest friends and relatives.
  • Difficulty in remembering most details of their personal history.
  • Major personality changes and potential behavior problems.
  • The need for assistance with activities of daily living such as toileting and bathing.
  • Frequent wandering.

Stages 7: Very Severe Decline

Because the disease is a terminal illness, people in Stage 7 are nearing death. They lose the ability to communicate or respond to their environment. While they may still be able to utter words and phrases, they have no insight into their condition and need assistance with all activities of daily living. They may even lose their ability to swallow.

Talking about Alzheimer’s

While you and your senior loved one might feel like you have no control over what happens next, there are steps you can take in the early stages that will keep you feeling in charge and empowered. It all begins with communication.

Sit down as a family and give your senior loved one the opportunity to share their wishes for dealing with the difficulties ahead. This will probably take more than a single conversation. But together, you can create a plan, one that may include arranging residency in a retirement home or community that specializes in Memory Care 24/7, such as The Verandah in Lake Charles, Louisiana, The Gardens at Brook Ridge in Pharr, Texas, Windsor Heights in Beachwood, Ohio, The Haven at North Hills in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or Heritage Point in Mishawaka, Indiana.        

Sharing that a Family Member has Alzheimer’s

First and foremost, don’t rush your loved one into a big announcement. They likely need time to digest the news and decide how to proceed. Unless their safety or decision-making capacity is an immediate concern, follow their wishes. They might choose to tell people closest to them on their own, or they might ask you or another loved one to do so.

Needless to say, it’s important to be well-informed about the disease when you talk to family and friends. Many people are well aware of Alzheimer’s disease and can become trusted mentors to help guide you forward. Others, however, will be aware that Alzheimer’s exists, but don’t understand it. It is a complex disease that involves more than just forgetfulness and memory loss.

This link from the Alzheimer’s Association website can be especially helpful for sharing with people as you discuss the diagnosis. It covers topics ranging from symptoms and brain changes to current research.

How to Talk with Someone Who has Alzheimer’s

As you or your loved one begins sharing the news, you’ll likely have people ask you for advice on communicating with the senior. Over time, your loved one’s verbal skills may become impaired, which can be very frustrating to him or her. Here are a few tips to help communicate with loved ones:

  • Approach from the front so you don’t startle them.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Maintain eye contact; sit or kneel if necessary.
  • Smile and use an empathetic tone.

We hope this information makes it easier to understand and deal with the aggressive approach of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, as well as to break the news to friends and family of your loved one who should be informed. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact any of Sunshine’s Memory Care communities.

*This blog was first published here: Sunshine Retirement Living, March, 2019. Some content was provided by www.sunriseseniorliving.com, www.alz.org and www.alzheimers.net.

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