What is the time frame for Alzheimer's disease to follow a dementia diagnosis?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My wife has dementia. What are the progression symptoms and what is the time frame of debilitating Alzheimer's following dementia?

Expert Answer

A social worker and geriatric consultant who specializes in dementia care, Joyce Simard is based in Land O' Lakes, Florida, and in Prague. She is a well-known speaker and has written two books, one focusing on end-of-life care and the other, entitled The Magic Tape Recorder, explaining aging, memory loss, and how children can be helpers to their elders.

The progression of Alzheimer's disease is as individual as the person who has it. I usually talk about the progression of dementia in three stages. During the first stage recent memory, what just happened or was said has disappeared. In this stage, the person can be reminded, gently of course, about what they have forgotten. Make sure then person has some identification on them and enrolling them in the Alzheimer's Association's "Safe Return" program is a good idea as people in this may wander off and forget how to get home. They can usually dress independently and care for their basic needs with just a bit of assistance. When the person becomes angry and defensive about their memory loss, they may be in stage two. They live in another reality and the caregivers need to understand that telling "the truth" is usually very hurtful. I suggest that "fix the problem" is the best solution for most situations. For instance, many people in the middle stage will want to look for someone who is deceased, often their mother. Rather than telling the person, "your mother has been dead for many years", I will say "I think she is coming later tonight" or "Your mother is on vacation". The person with dementia will usually forget this answer and ask again but at least it is a happier answer. A man who must "go to work" can be told he is on vacation or it's the weekend or whatever makes him happy and "fixes" the problem. At this time they may need assistance with dressing and grooming but usually can still walk and feed themselves with minimal cueing.
By the late stage of dementia, the person will be total care, unable to walk and have very few words in their vocabulary. They will usually respond to "loving touch" so slow the care offered to them. Assess for pain and discomfort as they may not have the words to tell you that they have a headache or that they are uncomfortable. Non-verbal communication is important to assess; sounds, facial expression, body movements, are some of the ways people with advanced dementia communicate. This is my specialty and you may want to check out my Namaste Care web site for more information. It is www.namastecare.com. The average life expectancy is 8 years from diagnosis but again it depends on the individual. What is important is that people in all stages of a dementing illness can have quality of life to the end of life. Treasure the moments"¦..blessings to you.