No two people experience dementia the same way. In the early stages of the disease, many can function independently. Your loved one may continue to drive, work, and enjoy social activities. During this period of time, your role may be more like a care partner than a caregiver. Still, your love, support, and companionship are crucial.
WHAT IS “EARLY STAGE” DISEASE?
“Early stage” refers to people, irrespective of age, who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or related disorders and who are in the beginning stages of the disease. During this time, the person with dementia may experience mild changes in the ability to think and learn, but he or she continues to participate in daily activities and give-and-take dialogue. Typically, this is the stage when friends, family, or co-workers begin to notice difficulties, but often people may converse with someone at this stage and not notice anything is amiss. The early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia can last for years.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Common early-stage issues can include noticeable problems coming up with the right word or name, trouble remembering names when introduced to new people, having noticeably greater difficulty performing tasks in social or work settings, forgetting material that one has just read, losing or misplacing a valuable object, and increasing trouble with planning or organizing.
As the disease progresses, problems will become more evident. They can include: forgetfulness of recent events; impaired ability to perform challenging mental arithmetic — for example, counting backward from 100 by 7s; greater difficulty performing complex tasks, such as planning dinner for guests, paying bills or managing finances; or forgetfulness about one’s own personal history. In this stage, the person with Alzheimer’s may become moody or withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations.
HOW CAN I HELP?
Here are some key ways in which you may provide care and support to a loved one in the early stages
of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Gentle reminders. Your loved one may need cues and reminders to help with memory. For example, he or she may require help with keeping appointments, remembering names, managing money, keeping track of medications, and planning or organizing. Shared calendars, notes, medication schedules, and other reminder systems can help the person stay organized. Establishing a daily routine and maintaining some regularity will also help calm and reassure your loved one.
Emotional support. A person with dementia may feel frustrated, anxious, embarrassed, or isolated. You can help by encouraging your loved one to share feelings and to stay involved in activities he or she enjoys. This is a good time to join a support group, too. Your nearest Autumn Leaves community hosts a support group that’s free and open to anyone in the community caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
Legal and financial decision-making. As a care partner, one of the most important steps you can take is to help the person with early-stage Alzheimer’s to get legal, financial and care plans in place. This will allow your loved one to weigh in on his or her future, knowing that the time will come when that’s no longer possible. If your loved one is willing, bring him or her to Autumn Leaves for a tour and discuss long-term care options. This is also the time to talk about future safety topics, such as what to do when driving is no longer an option.
Cherish the moments. Remember there will be good days and bad days. Try to live in the moment and enjoy the good days when they come.
Finally, know that we at Autumn Leaves are always ready to help. For more information, call (888) 662-8886.