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Anticipating Alzheimer’s Care Needs

Here’s a look at the three primary stages of Alzheimer’s and how they impact the patient and the caregiver.

A senior woman and her adult daughter
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Like Alzheimer’s disease itself, the caregiving needs of someone living with Alzheimer’s progress over time. The more that caregivers anticipate disease-related changes and learn about caregiving options and resources, the better prepared they’ll be to ensure their loved one remains safe while getting necessary care.

“It’s important for caregivers to think about care as a continuum,” says Monica Moreno, senior director of care and support for the Alzheimer’s Association. “The average life expectancy following an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is four to eight years, but some individuals can live with the disease for up to 20 years. So it’s important for caregivers to reassess care decisions and options regularly.”

Alzheimer’s typically progresses slowly in three stages: mild (early stage), moderate (middle stage) and severe (late stage). Because Alz-heimer’s affects people in different ways, people experience symptoms—or go through the stages—differently.

In early-stage Alzheimer’s, most people are able to function on their own and may live independently. The person may still drive and participate in favorite activities. However, they may need medication reminders or help remembering appointments.

Middle-stage Alzheimer’s, usually the longest stage, can last for many years. Individuals often still participate in conversations, activities and their daily care, such as bathing. They’ll need more support over time.

In late-stage Alzheimer’s, people experience major declines in their ability to respond to their environment or carry on a conversation. They become dependent on others for care.

An important step in assessing and anticipating care options is determining the person’s current care needs. Whenever possible, especially during the early stage of the disease, involve the person with the disease in current and future care decisions.

Important questions to ask yourself as you evaluate care needs include:

Safety: Is the person living with dementia safe? What type of supervision is necessary?

Health: Does the health of the person with dementia require specialized care? Help with medications?

Care: Does the person need help toileting or dressing? Can you physically manage the care needed?

Social engagement: Is the person engaged in meaningful daytime activities? Would spending time with others with dementia be beneficial?

To learn more about Alzheimer’s and to find resources, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at or call its 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.

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