The onset of Alzhemier’s disease is often difficult to pinpoint as it starts with forgetfulness and difficulty in finding the right word, common problems associated with the ageing process.
In these early stages, those closest to the person with Alzhemier’s disease may notice personality changes. For example, a previously cheerful person may become irritable and even aggressive and may no longer be able to cope with the demands of a busy life.
As the disease progresses, loss of memory, difficulty in completing simple tasks, and more overt personality changes, often combined with depression, become more evident. Mathematical and verbal skills decline, which may mean that a person is no longer able to read instructions or count their change. Conversation can become empty and meaningless. Sometimes people with Alzhemier’s may become paranoid, believing, for example, that their carers are trying to poison them or that their partner is being unfaithful. The sense of time and place can also be lost, with sufferers getting dressed in the middle of night or wandering off and becoming lost, even on once-familiar territory. This can cause a great deal of stress and upset for the person’s carers and family who, in effect, have lost the person they once knew.
During the late stages of the disease, people with Alzhemier’s may become totally dependent upon others for their care. Walking can become difficult, confining a sufferer to bed. He or she may become incontinent, experience hallucinations and become increasingly unaware of their surroundings. It is at this stage that residential care, with round the clock nursing, is often considered.
The average duration of the disease is about ten years, with a range of between 3-20 years from diagnosis and death. Often the cause of death in a person with Alzhemier’s is another illness, such as pneumonia, which becomes more common in people who are bed-bound and so less resistant to infection.