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Published March 10, 2012, 11:30 PM

Bursack: The stages of Alzheimer’s

Dear Carol: My mother was diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s disease last fall. The doctor prescribed Aricept for her, but she refuses to take it. We give her a regular vitamin pill, but I’m wondering if there are any special vitamins she should take, and also if “brain game” activities really help. I’d also like to know what stages we should watch for and how long people can live with Alzheimer’s.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

Dear Carol: My mother was diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s disease last fall.

The doctor prescribed Aricept for her, but she refuses to take it. We give her a regular vitamin pill, but I’m wondering if there are any special vitamins she should take, and also if “brain game” activities really help. I’d also like to know what stages we should watch for and how long people can live with Alzheimer’s. – Karen

Dear Karen: The Alzheimer’s Association cites seven general stages that the disease follows. Some Alzheimer’s groups list five, and the Mayo Clinic site uses three.

Essentially, they are all giving the same information, just with a little different organization. Please understand that each person with Alzheimer’s disease will progress at a different rate, and the progression is not always in a straight line.

The first stage of Alzheimer’s that the Mayo Clinic site recognizes is mild AD, which means “…when it becomes clear to family and doctors that a person is having significant trouble with memory and thinking. According to the site, the person with AD may experience memory loss for recent events, difficulty with problem solving, changes in personality, difficulty organizing and expressing thoughts and getting lost or misplacing belongings.”

During the moderate stage, the clinic site says the person may show increasingly poor judgment and deepening confusion, experience even greater memory loss, need help with some daily activities and undergo significant changes in personality and behavior.

During the late stage, we can expect the person with AD to lose the ability to communicate coherently, require daily assistance with personal care and experience a decline in physical abilities.

For more complete information, please check the Mayo Clinic Website at www.mayoclinic.com or the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org, or call your local Alzheimer’s organization.

Alzheimer’s tends to progress more slowly in those who are diagnosed at a younger age, and in otherwise healthy people. According to Mayo Clinic, on average, people with Alzheimer’s disease live four to six years after diagnosis, but some survive as long as 20 years.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Drugs such as Aricept are often given in the early stages of the disease because they are thought to slow the progression for some people. Some studies have shown that that a diet high in antioxidants may help prevent AD, or can help slow the disease for those who have it. You may want to check with a nutritionist for suggestions.

Challenging your mom’s brain by helping her learn new skills, encouraging aerobic exercise and giving her antioxidant rich foods may help her feel better overall, even if her AD doesn’t improve.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com.

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