A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is a devastating time for a family. First, of course, there is the emotional upheaval the diagnosis presents to you and your loved one. There are also medical questions as well as financial and legal matters to consider. That’s why it’s so important to educate yourself about dementia’s progression and prepare yourself for what is to come.
Stages of the Disease:
In preparing for dementia, be aware that it progresses through seven distinct stages, from normal to very severe. Charter Senior Living has described each stage in the interest of helping families recognize the status of their loved one’s disease so that they can understand it, know how to handle it, and seek appropriate treatment.
Stage 1: Normal Brain Health: No impairment. Doctors start the scale at this level in order to have a standard of comparison as the disease progresses to other stages.
Stage 2: Very mild: Symptoms include having a hard time remembering names or where you left your keys. Unless it progresses to something more serious, it is not a cause for concern and may not indicate the onset of a serious cognitive illness.
Stage 3: Mild: Mild cognitive impairment (MCI), characterized by an escalation of previously minor issues with memory and thinking that start to affect your loved one’s daily life to a moderate extent.
Stage 4: Moderate: In addition to memory issues, the senior may begin experiencing moodiness or begin to seem anti-social. They’ll have trouble with everyday tasks and often be unresponsive. Often at this stage, a senior will insist that nothing’s wrong and deny that any symptoms are happening.
Stage 5: Moderately Severe: This is the stage at which your loved one is likely to need help with basic daily tasks like getting dressed and bathing and will suffer from regular confusion, forgetfulness, and difficulty with focus and problem solving.
Stage 6: Severe: A caregiver is needed for most tasks of daily life-getting dressed, bathing, eating, using the bathroom, and potentially getting from place to place. The same memory and mental problems from the earlier stages will still be present, but seniors will also experience personality changes, delusions, and may have trouble recognizing loved ones.
Stage 7: Very Severe: At this stage, the individual often loses the ability to communicate some of the time (although sometimes seniors with severe dementia will have occasional days of lucidity), they’ll need help with all types of day-to-day care, and they may lose the ability to walk.
Financial and legal planning also is an important aspect of preparing for the progression of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Don’t put off talking and moving forward with these very important matters. The sooner you take care of financial and legal matters, the more the individual with dementia will be able to participate.
Ensure that your planning includes preparation or updating of various legal documents, including your parent’s will or living trust, designating general durable power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney, creating a living will or advance directive, and preparing HIPAA authorization forms. Consult an elder care attorney to prepare these documents in accordance with your parent’s wishes, which will assure that decision-making proceeds as your parent would have wanted even during the latter stages of the disease when judgment and memory are most severely impaired.
In addition, families should sit down with their loved one to go over monthly bills and financial obligations. Make sure you’re aware of the status of your parent’s bank accounts, mortgages or consumer loans, credit cards, life insurance and long-term care insurance policies, pensions, retirement funds, prepaid funeral arrangements, etc. It will be easier organize all of this information and ask questions while your parent is still able to communicate the details to you.
Another thing to consider is how the progression of dementia will rob your parent’s of their memories, and that’s a lost to the rest of the family as well. It can be a great bonding experience for family members to sit down with your parent, listen to stories, and go through family photos or videos. This can be enjoyable for your parent and also a way to make a lasting connection.
In addition to reminiscing about the past, take plenty of photos and videos of your loved one interacting with their children, grandchildren, and other family members. Take the time to enjoy your parent in the here and now, understanding that each memory you make will be a precious keepsake in the future.