My Career in Caregiving: Understanding the Stages of Alzheimer's
As you embark on your professional journey in the caregiving world, many of your clients may have deteriorating cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. Alzheimer's is a progressive disease of the brain that causes severe memory loss and other cognitive abilities. Since an estimated 5.5 million people are living with Alzheimer's, it is likely that you will be working with clients who have the condition. The stages of Alzheimer's can be broken down into three main stages: Mild (early stage), Moderate (middle-stage), and Severe (late-stage). Having experience with people in all of these stages, I wanted to share some information about the differences between the three, what to expect, and how to prepare yourself.
Mild (Early-Stage)- During this stage people may still be able to function normally. However, they may experience memory lapses like forgetting words or locations of household items. Other common challenges include, putting something down and forgetting where it is immediately after, trouble recalling people’s names after being introduced, and struggling to plan/organize. Since the individual may experience little to no symptoms, it is up to you to take the initiative to determine what assistance your client may need. Some simple things may include:
Helping them remember upcoming appointments
Writing important information down for reference, so your client does not need to rely on memory.
Focus on their strengths, rather than their weaknesses.
Encourage them to stay physically active.
Moderate (Middle-Stage)- This is the longest stage of Alzheimer's and can last several years. I have many clients in this stage who require a lot of care. This stage also requires a great deal of patience as they become frustrated or angry and may display unusual behavior such as refusing to bathe themselves or wandering around. It is important to remain calm as getting frustrated will only cause them to become further disoriented. Here are some things that can help you.
Speak in a soft, reassuring tone
Activities such as cooking, playing piano, taking a walk can help reduce wandering and agitation
Identify situations/activities that trigger stress and avoid them or gently guide them through it. (bathing, personal grooming, going to bed, etc.)
Severe (Late-Stage)- This is the final stage and can bring about many complications. The individual loses their ability to control their movement as well as the ability to hold a conversation with those around them. They need around the clock care and are very susceptible to illness like pneumonia. Your role as a home aide is to protect their dignity and quality of life. Since their verbal communication skills may no longer be there, a senior will rely on their senses. Encourage food and fluid consumption if they are still able to chew and swallow. You may need to adapt foods so that it can be easily swallowed. Some things to try to keep your client in good spirits include looking at old pictures together, preparing a favorite food, listening to favorite music.
I chose to pursue my caregiving career by taking advantage of the New Jersey Caregiver Academy’s Certified Home Health Aide Program. Enrolling in the online class option gave me the flexibility to learn the material on my own time. I’ve also wanted to learn more about Alzheimer's Disease since I was young. I feel as though society does not provide enough opportunities for elderly individuals suffering from this disease, so knowing that I could assist them and potentially make their days a little bit brighter brought me a tremendous amount of comfort. Working as a home health aide for clients with Alzheimer's disease has taught me to never take anything for granted and take each day slowly. If you are interested in a career in caregiving, please call (609) 416-2442 to learn more about this wonderful program.