Wouldn’t it be helpful if there was an Alzheimer’s care manual, with step-by-step details on what to anticipate at each and every stage of the disease? While there are a few general commonalities during the progression of dementia, each person’s experience is different. This makes it hard to know what to expect on any given day.
Despite the unpredictability of Alzheimer’s disease, there are certain situations that are beyond the normal array of expectations to watch for. Perhaps one of the most concerning is a sudden worsening of Alzheimer’s symptoms. This might occur for a variety of reasons:
Stroke or a brain injury, such as from a fall
Delirium, caused by an infection, hospital stay or surgery, medication side effects, insufficient sleep, dehydration, or even constipation
Disruption to normal routine from a move, change in caregivers, hospitalization, etc.
An underlying illness such as cancer or prion disease
What Are the Typical Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is progressive, and as of now, incurable. For these reasons, a decline in condition is to be expected. An abrupt shift in the person’s condition, however, is atypical. Generally speaking, the condition progresses through the following stages:
Early: The first detectable signs of Alzheimer’s are usually very mild, including short-term memory lapses, forgetting a word, or getting lost.
Middle: In the middle stage of the disease, cognitive difficulties progress to the point that the individual struggles with independently performing activities of daily living.
Late: The last stage of Alzheimer’s, which may take years to reach, involves a lack of response and recognition of both people and environment, as the body starts to shut down.
If You Observe Sudden Worsening of Alzheimer’s Symptoms…
Seek medical assistance immediately if a sudden decline is noted so that the cause can be pinpointed and addressed.
A dementia care journal is often an incredibly helpful tool, before, during, and after worsening symptoms. Daily journaling can help you keep track of:
Eating and sleeping habits
Medications taken and any side effects detected
What works and what does not work in helping the person manage challenges
The individual's overall demeanor on any particular day
Any difficult behaviors noted, with particulars on time of day and potential triggers or contributing circumstances
These kinds of details will be invaluable in helping to patch together what might have caused a rapid change in condition and exactly how to remedy it.