A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can be scary, with both the person diagnosed and their relatives and friends wondering what to expect. Unfortunately, there are no certainties with Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals experience symptoms at different times and levels of intensity, but in every case it’s important to remember that Alzheimer’s isn’t as frightening as it seems. Many people with Alzheimer’s live full, happy lives with the support of friends, family and professional memory care.
In many cases, Alzheimer’s starts mild, leaving individuals and relatives with time to pursue their interests and plan for the support they need. Here’s what you can expect from early stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Early Stage Alzheimer’s Symptoms
Some people notice early signs of Alzheimer’s disease before they qualify for a diagnosis, which is known as the preclinical stage. Symptoms include forgetting words and losing things like your keys or wallet – all things that can be everyday forgetfulness just as easily as Alzheimer’s-related dementia. If you’re in this situation, keep an eye on these symptoms, but try not to worry or overthink.
Mild Clinical Symptoms
If someone has Alzheimer’s, the everyday absentminded moments from the preclinical stage become more frequent and forgetfulness gets worse. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s you can expect the following symptoms:
- Difficulty remembering words and people’s names
- Trouble performing familiar everyday tasks
- More issues with organizing and planning on a basic level
- Difficulty recalling recent events
- Trouble managing finances
If you notice consistent, frequent or worsening symptoms like those above, you should seek an expert medical opinion. If early stage Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, you should start researching support options that will provide the best lifestyle.
It’s also important to note that some Alzheimer’s symptoms are more impactful than others, even in the early stages. For example, difficulty with financial management may lead to significant financial losses, which can impact the ability to cover caregiving costs later. If a person you care about is showing signs of early-stage Alzheimer’s, make sure that finances are being appropriately managed.
Are there treatments you can pursue?
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease yet, but there are medications that can slow the progress and relieve symptoms, particularly in the early stages of the disease. Research suggests that the earlier a patient with Alzheimer’s disease receives treatment, the more likely it is that the treatment will have a positive effect.
Several medications have been tested and shown to be promising for patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s. The most common are types of cholinesterase inhibitors, which fight the loss of cholinergic neurons associated with dementia symptoms.
The three most common medications today are:
Rivastigmine, galantamine and donepezil have all been demonstrated in clinical trials to be safe and effective for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, but Donepezil is associated with fewer harmful side effects.
What to Expect When Supporting Someone with Early Stage Alzheimer’s Disease
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, individuals can still do most things for themselves. Accepting and offering support in this stage can be challenging, but it can also be a time when family and friends get closer.
The most important way you can offer support in the early stages is to support their needs and honor their journey, including the way they want to handle the disease. Often, that means helping them retain as much of their independence as possible for as long as possible. The biggest challenge is balancing safety with self-sufficiency and dignity. When a relative or friend is no longer safe without regular support, then you’ll need to consider memory care or a professional, in-home caregiver.
Here’s some general advice on helping someone with early stage Alzheimer’s:
Start by assuming they can handle it.
In the early stages, it’s usually safe to assume that the person can handle the majority of the tasks they encounter every day. While completing tasks may take longer, they’re usually done without too much of a struggle, so try not to offer help unless there’s a safety risk. Providing unwanted support at this stage can cause frustration in your friend or relative, so expect some discussion as you find the right level of support to offer.
Put safety first.
Independence is important for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, but as part of their support network, it’s important that you put safety first. If your relative or friend’s safety is at risk – physical or otherwise – step in.
Adjusting to Alzheimer’s disease is a journey both you and the person with symptoms will take together. Several studies have shown that the more you work together to process the dualities of independence versus safety – and the likelihood of needing help but not wanting it – the less conflict you’ll experience and the smoother your journey will be.
Talk about it.
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.” – Fred Rogers
If you care about someone with Alzheimer’s, honor their dignity by talking about what they need and when they need it. Knowing that someone is doing things for you without telling you about it can feel demeaning, especially if you’re already feeling vulnerable.
Ask what kind of support they need and when they need it. Talk about what’s frustrating and how you can help. At this point, they may just need your understanding presence and perhaps a gentle reminder now and then.
Some people feel uncomfortable asking for help, so ask if you can work out a signal that means “Yes, you can help me.” Something as simple as a nod can tell you that the person struggling is okay with accepting support at that moment.
Take care of yourself.
Early stage Alzheimer’s can be a stressful time not just for the individual with the disease, but for those close to them as well. Caregivers, relatives and friends often struggle with the burden of support and planning for the future. Now is the time to take steps to ensure your own well-being as well as that of your relative.
Take time for yourself, talk to your friends and family and make a conscious effort to check in with how you’re feeling. You’ll be a better source of support if you’re not stressed or overwhelmed yourself.
Consider Professional Support During the Early Stages of Alzheimer’s
It’s common for individuals with Alzheimer’s and their families to feel a greater sense of safety, peace and well-being when they have professional outside support. Professional support sets individuals up for a strong, healthy life both during the early stages of Alzheimer’s and as the condition progresses. Eventually, you might find that you or the person you care about needs to live in a place where they can have more consistent support and supervision.
When that happens, look for a memory care community that values dignity, respect and independence as much as you do. The Cabana at Jensen Dunes offers customized support and engaging programming to help every resident make the most of each day. Contact The Cabana today to find out more about our unique memory care community.