Alzheimers' Disease: Stages and Symptoms
Take a comprehensive look at Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's is growing worldwide. With almost one-third of Canada’s population expected to reach 65 years of age within the next decade, it comes as no surprise that the World Health Organization (WHO) projects that one in 85 people globally will have Alzheimer’s by 2050. Senile Dementia of the Alzheimer Type or SDAT, as the disease is officially known, appears most often in individuals age 65 or older. This confounding statistic is a worrisome one for sons and daughters whose parents are entering retirement.
What is SDAT? While medical professionals still debate the issue, they do know that SDAT is a disease that causes the disruption of otherwise healthy neural transmissions between cells of the brain. Where healthy nerve synapses between neuron cells allow them to communicate and fulfil their normal functions of clarity, language, memory, mood and recognition, SDAT essentially disrupts and blocks these nerve synapses. When this occurs, impaired brain functions develop, eventually leading to the death of the affected individual. What is particularly insidious about this disease is that it often develops over years. In fact, the mean life expectancy of an Alzheimer sufferer is seven years. Fewer than three percent of sufferers live beyond 14 years since first diagnosed with the disease.
The Four Stages of Alzheimer's Disease
SDAT has four distinct stages of development. Knowing what these stages are can help families understand the progression of the disease and what they can do to help support the affected individual.
The first stage is pre-dementia. This stage is characterised by apathy and a mild reduction in abstract thinking, attentiveness, flexibility, memory loss and planning.
Early dementia is the second stage. Here the afflicted individual suffers a greater impairment of learning and memory, shrinking vocabulary, decreased word fluency and the ability to undertake written language.
Moderate dementia, the third stage, results in behaviours that inhibit independence. Here the Alzheimer sufferer is unable to perform the most common activities of daily living. Complex motor skills are disrupted and memory loss is pronounced, resulting in an impairment of vocabulary, reading and writing skills, loss of long-term memory and recognition, the development of habits such as wandering, irritability and unpremeditated outbursts of aggression.
The final stage is advanced dementia. Here the sufferer is overwhelmed by memory and speech loss, extreme apathy, and exhaustion. Mobility and muscle mass deteriorate to the point where affected individuals are now bedridden, unable to feed themselves, and completely dependent on care giving to perform even the most rudimentary daily activities.
With more than 500 clinical studies having been performed as of 2008, SDAT is no longer a mystery to the medical community. Rather than being a mere accoutrement of old age, Alzheimer’s disease is recognized and treated as a real physical affliction and one that can be identified, evaluated and prepared for.
Today, Canadian families faced with an advanced stage Alzheimer sufferer have plenty of support. The best advice you can get is through the Alzheimer Society of Canada, a not-for-profit health organization begun in 1978. Their web site, alzheimer.ca, offers a wide range of resources that includes latest research on the disease, care giving, medical treatment, and a roster of care giving support groups. In addition, there are numerous links to discussion groups and excellent on-line training for families who are facing the task of looking after a loved one.