Coping with Early Stage Alzheimer's

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2019

There are different stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and a common model of the disease is the three-stage model: early stage (also called mild), middle stage (moderate), and late stage (severe).

Although the disease usually progresses slowly through these stages, the duration of each stage can vary among people with Alzheimer's, as well as the symptoms and severity of symptoms.1 Living with Alzheimer’s disease can look very different at each stage, but a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease does not mean your life is ending that day.

After diagnosis, a person with Alzheimer’s disease lives, on average, 4 to 8 more years, although it is also possible to live much longer; up to 20 years post-diagnosis. There are a lot of factors to consider, and living well is possible.

Planning for life changes with Alzheimer's

In the early stage of Alzheimer’s, an individual can still live independently, and may even be driving and working as usual. If the person has a partner, now is a good time to discuss possible plans for care, any medical wishes, and any legal and financial decisions that need to be made, including power of attorney. The person can discuss any questions or concerns they have about the disease with their partner and/or doctor, and set up provisions for a caregiver or a memory care home if need be. The unknown can provoke a lot of anxiety, and by addressing all of these factors early on in the disease, a person with Alzheimer’s disease can make plans for when the disease progresses, and hopefully feel more secure about the future.

If the person has a partner, they can talk with them about what symptoms they may be having and any safety precautions that can be put in place.2 If the person doesn’t have a partner, they can talk with their other family or potential caregivers about these things. Think about what is needed and what anticipatory needs might arise as the symptoms progress, and make a plan. Be honest so that an individual can get the assistance needed to stay as independent as possible.

Getting the support needed

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is life-altering, and as with any diagnosis of a major disease, it’s natural to have a variety of feelings and emotions.

Seek assistance and support; a person with Alzheimer's doesn’t have to face this alone. Talk with the doctor about local resources for financial assistance or caregiving, as well as any support groups or counselors if necessary.3

A person with Alzheimer’s or their caregiver can also look online for online support groups or message boards, as well as resources for information. Learning about Alzheimer’s disease can help prepare for the road ahead, and knowing what to expect as the disease progresses can reduce anxiety because it gives the person and their caregivers a chance to set up plans and support. Learning about clinical trials or new research and medications that may become available can also be beneficial.

Discuss changing symptoms with a doctor or loved one

In early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, although a person might only be experiencing some memory lapses and recall problems, they might experience problems with concentration, organization, and money management.4

Talk with the doctor and a partner or caregiver about specific issues that have arisen, and concerns they might have, as well as how things might change or progress as time goes on. At this stage, friends, family members, and coworkers might start to notice cognitive issues. Their concerns should be taken seriously and the person with Alzheimer’s should decide how they want to address them to keep themselves safe, as well as their overall well-being, which includes financial well-being.

By anticipating any potential issues or difficulties, a person might save themselves stress and trouble later on, and make things easier later on.

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