Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. It is irreversible and progressive; over time it erodes memory and thinking skills and the ability to perform simple functions. Alzheimer’s disease proceeds through several stages, and each stage requires a different type of care and support. When a person has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they probably have two to four years before they will need dementia home care. That is why the early stage is the ideal time for the family to make a care plan for the future. It allows the person with the disease to participate in the planning.

The three stages of Alzheimer’s—preclinical, mild to moderate, and severe—are marked by different symptoms and different needs. A person in the preclinical stage may show few or no signs of having the disease. There may be minor memory lapses, like forgetting where things are kept, which most people experience with age or even stress. At this stage, testing may not show any indication of Alzheimer’s. The person may need minimal assistance, like help with remembering medications and paying the bills, but very often, they function well.

In the mild to moderate stage, the person’s difficulty, not only with memory, but also with concentration becomes more noticeable. They may not be able to perform tasks or plan and organize projects. They may forget recent events or parts of their personal history, lose valuable objects, or show poor judgment with money or health habits.

These symptoms increase over the next few years, during which friends and family may begin to see personality changes as well. The person may become moody or withdrawn, particularly when surrounded by people. A doctor’s examination at this stage will detect clear symptoms and render a diagnosis. At this point, a person with Alzheimer’s will need dementia home care from trained caregivers.

Families have a number of options for caregiving and support at this point. Adult day centers provide a safe environment during the day while family members are at work, as well as structure, mental and sensory stimulation, and the opportunity to socialize with other seniors. Many also provide meals and transportation. Home care solutions are another option that gives family caregivers much-needed breaks by providing supervision, meal preparation, medication reminders, and vital companionship in the person’s own home.

As the disease progresses, more advanced home care will be called for. Home care allows a person with Alzheimer’s to remain at home among familiar surroundings, even when they need help dressing, eating, and bathing. (See Home care solutions  at CarePlus, Inc.)

Dementia home care is geared specifically towards those with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Dementia home care offers the same assistance as regular home care, but in addition dementia, caregivers are familiar with the stages of the disease, what to expect from the person who has it, strategies to deal with behaviors that cause problems and safety issues related to these changes. A dementia home care plan can be tailored specifically to the likes, dislikes, and personal needs of the person with Alzheimer’s and can also help them engage in activities that stimulate memory and interaction. (CarePlus, Inc. offers a specialized program for Alzheimer’s and dementia home care.)

A dementia home caregiver can also help the family understand what is happening, how to respond, and how to head off interactions that tend to distress or agitate a person with Alzheimer’s. For example, it is helpful to provide a calm and orderly physical environment, to structure a day according to an older person’s energy levels and make the schedule consistent, and to provide and encourage sensory experiences like listening to music. It is not helpful to argue about facts or carry on a conversation with the television on. A dementia home caregiver can help family and friends adjust to their loved one’s new needs.

An assisted living community may be another option for an older person with Alzheimer’s. Assisted living allows an older person to live in a private apartment in a center or community with other seniors while being able to check in with round-the-clock staff and receiving on-site services such as dining, housekeeping, laundry, recreational and social activities, and transportation.

Memory care units are also helpful for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. A memory care unit is a floor or wing of a larger care residence with staff who have received specialized training in care for the special needs of people with Alzheimer’s and other memory problems and includes safety measures like secured exits.

During the severe stage, a person with Alzheimer’s proceeds from memory loss to an inability to communicate or to sequence the steps for physical action or personal home care. They may recognize faces, but not remember names or what their relationship to the person is. Personality and behavior changes may be compounded by delusions and paranoia. In the severe stage, patients can also wander and lose weight.

If a person with Alzheimer’s is not already receiving 24-hour home care at this stage, they will need to move to residential care or a nursing home. Nursing homes provide room and board, skilled nursing care, (see skilled nursing care available from CarePlus) and round-the-clock supervision.

Almost 6 million people in the United States live with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Alzheimer’s alone is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country. There is currently no way to prevent it or cure it, but there are changes that people can make to better live with Alzheimer’s, and there are medications that help slow the progress of the disease and ameliorate symptoms.

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. Individuals and organizations across the world are organizing activities and fundraisers to promote research and treatment for Alzheimer’s and training for caregivers and family members. These activities culminate in The Longest Day on June 21st—the summer solstice—organized by the Alzheimer’s Association to connect thousands of participants taking the action of their choice to fight Alzheimer’s disease. If you are planning an event or would like to, check in with the Alzheimer’s Association’s website at The Longest Day.