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The Stages of Alzheimer’s and When to Consider Hospice

It's important for families to understand the progression of Alzheimer's disease to learn when it may be time for hospice intervention. 

An Interim Hospice Care Nurse sits with her patient

Alzheimer's disease is a painful condition for seniors and their loved ones to face. A person living with Alzheimer faces deteriorating mental and physical health, which can escalate to the point where he can no longer recognize or remember his nearest and dearest loved ones. 

This doesn't all happen at once, however. It's important for families to understand the progression of Alzheimer's disease to learn when it may be time for hospice intervention.

The nature of Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's typically has a slow progression. Because of its gradual start, seniors can develop and go through the early stages of the disease for years before it is diagnosed, which typically happen after symptoms are more obvious. As a result, it may seem like the condition is moving more rapidly, because around the time of the initial diagnoses the patient's health will begin to noticeably decline.

One of the saddest facts about Alzheimer's disease is that there is no cure, and experts still aren't sure if treatments are effectively adding on to patients' life spans. The exact speed will vary by patient -people who are diagnosed can live with the condition for five, ten or even up to 20 years. But once Alzheimer's has begun its progression, there really isn't any way to stop it.

To help family members of those living with the disease understand what to expect in the coming years, they need to know more about the typical timeline.
 

The progression of Alzheimer's

There are three main stages to the progress of this degenerative brain disease:
  1. Early stage (mild Alzheimer's). During this time, the individual still has near the faculty of his or her cognitive processes. They’ll be able to maintain a good deal of independence, and will typically go about daily routines in the same way. Symptoms of the disease will begin to get more noticeable, however, starting with small memory lapses. He or she may begin to forget familiar words and the names of people they meet or will misplace items more frequently. Along with the lapse in memory, the individual will also have more trouble concentrating. On average, this stage can last for a couple of years.

  2. Middle stage (moderate Alzheimer's). At this stage, the individual will need more direct help and care from doctors and loved ones. He or she may get frustrated more frequently and display other signs of behavioral changes. This is the point where the person will start to forget more familiar events and locations, sometimes getting lost in areas they know well. This stage usually lasts the longest, around several years.

  3. Late stage (severe Alzheimer's). In the late stage, the individual will lose most of his or her communication skills. They will be unable to remember even recent events and will require constant care. Physical limitations will include difficulty or inability to walk, sit up and swallow.

When to consider hospice care

A hospice network can be a great solution for families who are struggling with Alzheimer's. Because of the acute level of care that the individual needs, it can be too challenging for a loved one to provide it alone. 

Hospice staff are trained medical professionals who are highly educated in the specific field of hospice care. They know how to help and care for an individual with moderate to late stage Alzheimer's, and can improve the quality of life in the last days. Because there is no cure for the disease, hospice staff will focus on trying to keep the individual comfortable and relaxed. 

The care and support of a dedicated hospice team can help alleviate the pressure on the family members to provide for their loved one, which can allow them to better enjoy their time together and reduce their stress. 

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