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Health & Wellness

Caring for Your Loved One With Alzheimer's Disease or Related Dementias

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes a progressive loss of mental functioning. It affects a person’s ability to recall information, learn, reason and communicate. Because it is progressive, the disease will worsen over time. How quickly the disease progresses is different from person to person.

Currently, the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown, and no cure has been found. There are, however, medications and programs, including clinical trials, that may slow the progression of symptoms and maximize function. There is reason to hope.

This guide is for those who care for a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. Additional help for caregivers is available from the Visiting Nurse Association and the Swank Memory Care Center at ChristianaCare. Special thanks to the Alzheimer’s Association, Wilmington Regional Office, for their assistance.

Stages of Alzheimer’s disease

Health care providers often use this scale, developed by Dr. Barry Reisberg and colleagues, to determine how the disease has progressed and what level of care is needed. The scale is also sometimes called the Functional Assessment Staging (FAST) Scale.

Stage Characteristics
1 Normal Adult
  • No memory loss.
2 Normal Older Adult
  • Individual is aware of some memory decline.
3 Early Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Co-workers become aware of relatively poor performance.
  • May retain little material read in a book.
  • May display denial.
4 Mild Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Decreased ability to recall current and recent events.
  • Needs help with complex tasks, such as handling finances.
  • May withdraw from challenging situations.
  • Displays denial.
5 Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Can no longer survive without some help.
  • No help needed with eating and toileting, but needs help choosing proper clothing.
  • May frequently be confused about the date, day of the week, season, etc.
6 Moderately Severe Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Needs help with toileting, bathing and dressing.
  • Changes in personality and behavior.
7 Severe Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Ability to speak declines severely. May grunt.
  • Loses basic skills such as ability to walk, sit up or smile.