Highlights from this week’s conversation include:
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Ashley Bills 00:07
Hello and welcome to Ask a NaviGuide, part of the Abundant Aging podcast series. I’m Ashley, your host, and on this show we discuss topics and aging and family caregiving that can be stressful to work through. And we do this with tips and advice from the United Church Homes team of NaviGuides. Our NaviGuides have years of experience helping families age abundantly, and we hope that we share on this show will be information that will help you age abundantly also. Today, we have our NaviGuide, Kimberly, with us who will help us understand the stages of Alzheimer’s. Please remember the opinions shared in this podcast are those of our amazing naviguides that are not meant to convey or take the place of clinical legal or other professional advice. So hi, Kimberly.
Kimberly Harp 00:53
Hi, Ashley. Thanks for having me. Nice to see you.
Ashley Bills 00:56
Yeah, glad to have you. So why don’t you start, we start off a little bit today by telling you about your background, and what makes you so knowledgeable in this subject or why it’s important to you.
Kimberly Harp 01:07
Yeah, absolutely. I am a very proud advocate for Alzheimer’s, and individuals who are diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s and their care. It means a lot to me, my journey started out. I had some rough times during my teenage years, and I was placed in girls homes. And back in those days, you know, not all of them were regulated, just kind of role. Some stuff happened, you know, isolation, I miss my family, there was just a lot of trauma unwinding and stuff. Well, when I turned 16, I was looking for my first job after I got out. And I was hired as the activities assistant at a local nursing home. And when I first got hired, I didn’t know what that was, I just knew it paid, you know, this much more than this hostess job. Oh, I graciously accepted and they placed me in the memory care unit. And it was in that unit that you know, I guess I began to really find myself and realize, wow, even though we couldn’t be any more opposite age realms, these people were a lot more relatable to me than most anybody my age. And I don’t know, just a forever bond. Just an amazing season and forever advocate was born in those memory care units.
Ashley Bills 02:31
That’s awesome. I appreciate you sharing that story. It’s really interesting. So today, we’re talking about the stages of dementia. So my first question is not really about that at all about the stages, but more about the progression. So let’s say you just got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, how quickly does the disease typically progress?
Kimberly Harp 02:54
Yeah. So according to aws.org, which is the Alzheimer’s Association, once you receive a diagnosis, it can go as quickly as anywhere from four to eight years, or as long as 20 years. It just depends on the individual because everybody’s different genetics, backgrounds, different factors going on with the progression of this disease. So it just depends.
Ashley Bills 03:22
Okay, that makes sense. So the stages, how do you typically break it down? Is it just early, mid and late? Or are there more factors involved in that?
Kimberly Harp 03:33
Yeah, for the most part, most people refer to them as early, middle and late stages. I know when I was 16, I overheard some talk in the nursing home that there’s only seven stages, you know, but yeah, as time has progressed, the most I’ve heard is early, middle and late stages of Alzheimer’s.
Ashley Bills 03:54
Okay, so let’s talk about the early stages, what are some of the symptoms or behaviors that one might experience in that early stage?
Kimberly Harp 04:05
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, you’re going to experience a lot of interruptions, and decline in recently, our learned information, you know, forgetting phone numbers, frequently forgetting doctor’s appointments you’ve made, you can still function to a level of independence, but it’s not as well as it once was. Prior to the Alzheimer’s diagnosis. You know, you can still remember how to drive a car, but you don’t know. You’re struggling to remember where you’re going just every day, forgetfulness that’s impacting your daily function of living.
Ashley Bills 04:44
Okay, so, in that early stage, what part of the brain is typically affected first?
Kimberly Harp 04:51
You know, I don’t know. I know that from educational videos that I watched during some advocacy training. They broke it down into a really good educational, visual, I guess. Let’s say that this is the neuron, you know, a neuron in your brain and this shield wall over it, that is called the myelin sheath. And the way Alzheimer’s works is there are two biomarkers that are characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease and plaques and tangles. They destroy the shield wall, leaving that neuron exposed. And it deteriorates, unfortunately, very slowly, sometimes.
Ashley Bills 05:37
So then you just move around to different parts of your brain correct is kind of getting any Yeah, congrats.
Kimberly Harp 05:44
Yeah, It mainly affects memory, you know, it starts the Genesis start well before even the first symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s in the region that affects memory.
Ashley Bills 05:55
Gotcha. So if we think about the early stage, and we move to the moderate stage, what sort of symptoms do we see when it progresses along to that stage?
Kimberly Harp 06:06
Okay, yeah. So that towards the more middle stages, you’re going to see a lot more forgetfulness of past information. And according to aws.org, this is the season or the stage that can last typically the longest, people start to forget their loved ones, their own history, not even facial, you know, they don’t recognize the person coming to visit them, you’re going to experience a lot more mood swings, personality changes. It’s just a brutal, very sad reality.
Ashley Bills 06:42
Yeah. And that’s probably that’s, so if it’s the most common, that’s probably the one that maybe our listeners and caregivers have experienced most often. So how do we get them from there to the advanced stage? What are the different symptoms at this point?
Kimberly Harp 06:58
Yeah, so as we mentioned, it’s a very slow decline that takes place with the breaking down of those shield walls that protect your neurons and cognitive abilities. It’s just a slow cognitive decline all the way. And just so many changes are happening. By the time you get to the final stages of this disease, you’ve lost, unfortunately, your ability to even swallow. You know, you’re just from my experience, I remember seeing so many of my residents just lay in there, you know, they would have to be physically carried into their wheelchair, pushed down to the activities, and there would be almost no response, you know, those cues to respond to what’s in front of them, you know, if it’s a bingo game, or if it’s an ice cream, social. They’re just sitting there. And so you just, it’s a slow decline very slow.
Ashley Bills 07:56
And it’s very sad. It’s very sad to see. So is there. Are there different ways or to your knowledge, or I imagine medication does this too, with just slowing down that process so that you don’t get to the advanced stages as quickly as you know, maybe you would without anything?
Kimberly Harp 08:16
Yeah. Now there is. It’s widely known that there is no prevention treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are medications that have been proven to help with the symptoms, and they could slow some of the progression, it just depends on the individual, their personal characteristics, you know, biological factors. Don’t make me say the name of that medication that just got FDA approval because I cannot pronounce it. It’s an L. We
Ashley Bills 08:45
can Google it. That’s what Google’s for. All right. Good deal. So what are there any resources or anything about the stages that maybe we could provide our listeners with, that you’re familiar with?
Kimberly Harp 08:58
Yeah, the biggest one that I advocate for is to find support. Don’t try to walk this journey alone. Reach out, the Alzheimer’s Association has a 24/7 hotline, helpline to help you, your loved ones, your caregivers, they can put you in touch with not only local resources in your community, that offer home and community based services, but they have access to support groups, where you can go and actually physically sit with other families and individuals going through the same season you’re in your voice matters. And that’s what should be heard the most, not anybody else making decisions for you.
Ashley Bills 09:39
Yeah, that’s great. That’s a great resource. And it’s also, you know, they can’t do as well of a job that they do if we didn’t use them, right. If people didn’t reach out and say, This is my situation, this is how I need help. It’s only going to help them help more people by hearing everyone’s story. So thanks for sharing that Kimberly and thank you so much for being with us. Today And that wraps up our episode on the stages of dementia. So thank you for listening to this episode of Ask a NaviGuide part of the abundant aging podcast series brought to you by United Church Homes. If you liked the show, please like, share and subscribe so we can bring you more episodes like this. You can find us at abundantagingpodcast.com and you can leave feedback questions, ideas for future episodes. And you can find out more information on the NaviGuide program by visiting uchnaviguide.org and more about the memory care program comfort matters at UnitedChurchHomes.org. We’ll see you next time.