Our elder was diagnosed with the generic term “dementia” two and a half years ago. At the time, no one mentioned what form of dementia it was. In fact, no one in the family knew how many different types of dementia exist. Now we do.
Telling Our Elder: The doctor broke the news to our elder when she was first diagnosed. Our elder didn’t believe her. After that, whenever one of us mentioned it, she would either get very angry or she’d look at us and say, “Are you saying you think I’m losing my mind?” Eventually, we stopped using the word. That didn’t help matters any.
The Diagnosis: Yesterday our elder was finally told what form of dementia she had; Alzheimer’s. I was prepared for an argument, angry words and a thoroughly frustrating experience. Instead she accepted it. It was a disease with a name. It explained so many things that must have been puzzling her. She wasn’t crazy. I wish we’d had an accurate diagnosis two and half years ago.
There is more information that we, her caregivers and relatives need to know. Alzheimer’s is a nasty disease and it is the most frequent cause for dementia. Sometimes a diagnosis can be made right away. The geriatric team member who gave told our elder later told me that in cases of dementia that last two years or longer, it is the assumed diagnosis. Here is more information you may need if you or a loved one develops this disease.
Statistics for Alzheimer’s: There are five million people suffering from this disease as of 2014. It is the sixth leading cause of death for seniors. 500,000 people a year die from it. Caregivers in 2013 gave an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid assistance at an estimated loss of $220 billion overall.
Progression: Alzheimer’s has seven stages. The first few are sometimes hard to spot, especially if an elder lives alone and/or far from other family members. The first two may be chalked up to normal age related forgetfulness. They aren’t clear to doctor’s testing for symptoms. Stage three is when family and friends notice a difference. If there is no one to notice, this stage may also be missed unless a doctor tests for it.
Stage four is where we discovered the problem. There were clear difficulties paying bills, events were forgotten and someone tried to take advantage of her problem. That person was caught without harm to our elder, but it is what brought this out into the open.
Stage five includes difficulty choosing appropriate clothing for the weather, confusion as to where they are, forgetting their own phone number or address and difficulty with simple arithmetic.
Stage six Alzheimer’s patients need help using the toilet, may be confused when dressing, major personality changes and difficulty putting names and faces of familiar people together.
Stage seven is complete inability to recognize or respond to the environment. This stage ends in death.
While these stages are clinically accurate, you may find that your elder show symptoms of two categories. That’s human nature; we all respond to disease a little different. Knowing this does help prepare us for the progression of the illness.