We’re not going to lie to you or aim to minimize this reality in any way: Alzheimer’s is serious business and it will affect your life and the lives of those around you.
However, this is a silver lining, in the form of Alzheimer’s stages. Alzheimer’s does not come in like an avalanche. Changes are most often gradual and although the disease is progressive, it need not be rapidly progressive. A reasonably independent lifestyle is very feasible in the early months. Understanding the disease, facing up to reality and wrapping your head around what is to come can help you take charge and plan for the days where you will no longer be in a position to plan and care for yourself.
This kind of approach is very much preferred by independent seniors. Many seniors who have been powerful figures in their hay day prefer to plan and map the road ahead with regards to their Alzheimer’s. If this is you, or if you want to make things easier on your loved ones by making plans with them when you are still capable of it, understanding how the disease will progress and impact your life, is definitely essential.
Hats off to you for taking a definitive first step by doing your research.
If you are above 60 years of age and you have any sort of recurring, regular memory loss or any impairment in cognitive functioning, you should get tested for what is known as mild cognitive impairment. Abbreviated as MCI, it could be – but is not always – be a precursor to Alzheimer’s.
The doctor will check for MCI and all also check for the brain changes that indicate Alzheimer’s.
MCI is very unlikely to affect your life unless you are still working, especially in a power position, because obviously forgetfulness and cognitive impairment is going to be a hindrance in the workplace, especially if you are holding all the strings.
What to expect: If you’re a peaceful retiree however you can enjoy a social life (even do social work, if that’s what floats your boat) and have a very normal family life too.
Besides, it is important to underscore: MCI need not mean that Alzheimer’s is on its way. It is better to confirm with a PET scan or an Amyloid Beta Protein spinal fluid test.
The first stage – mild symptoms and almost full independence
If you are above 65 years of age it is important to get regular tests to spot the onset of Alzheimer’s early. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are medications that can optimize the quality of your life by minimizing the symptoms of the disease.
The first stage of Alzheimer’s is not much of a challenge for you or your loved ones. It is in this stage that you can (and must, if you want any control over it) begin talking to your family members (or relevant institutions) about your care plan in the coming years and end of life plans, not to mention end of life paperwork.
You might also want to transfer, or extend, access to your bank accounts and payment facilities to trusted parties at this time, while you still can. Give standing instructions to your bank and any financial advisors, lawyers and so on. Keep trusted family members in the loop of all discussions and put as much as possible down in writing.
What to expect:
- You might not be able to find the right terms, phrases, names etc
- You might forget recent events or learnings
- You might lose important or valuable items (so reduce your stress by reducing use of items that are not absolutely vital. Do you really need your gold bangles everyday?). Keep backups for things like spectacles. Have both a landline and a smartphone because you can’t misplace a whole landline.
- You might not be able to plan. Not even simple things, like making a task list.
The second stage – high dependency
Deterioration is far worse in this stage of Alzheimer’s which often proves to be the longest.
If you just can’t stand the idea od holding your loved ones back from their careers or whatever else (even when the situation – as it is now – is out of your control), and you want to plan ahead for paid care, this is when you’ll need the paid care to come in.
In this stage your cognitive abilities are pretty badly impacted. You’ll be able to perform some functions and you might even still be able to bond with loved ones on a good day, but it’s best that you do not try to play martyr and be independent at this stage because it is dangerous.
What to expect:
- Very pronounced memory loss where you might not know what year you are in and might not know your own address/ location and might not recognise loved ones
- This memory loss could result in getting lost and being unable to find one’s way to safety/ back home
- You might find yourself unable to stop biting your nails, wringing your hands and pacing.
- Things you found easy might suddenly seem extremely scary and difficult
- Changing sleep patterns where you are wide awake and restless at night, and sleeping all day.
- The worst part for most of us: inability to care for self by loss of control over bowels and bladder, inability to get dressed or select appropriate clothing and neglectfulness of personal hygiene.
The final stage – full dependency
If you’re planning ahead for yourself, this is the stage when you’ll require what is known as a hospice, or palliative care. This type of care for the terminally ill is to offer peace and dignity as one approaches the end of their life.
What to expect:
- Inability to speak and communicate
- Difficulty moving about
- Struggling to swallow
- Lack of awareness of surroundings/ Immediate environment