Understanding An Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

understanding an alzheimer's diagnosis

Adults receiving an official Alzheimer’s diagnosis experience a wide range of emotions. Anger, sadness, and grief are certainly in the mix. However, we’ve also heard clients (or their loved ones) experience a surprising sense of relief because the diagnosis is the final answer to all of the signs and symptoms indicating “something was wrong.” 

In many cases, an Alzheimer’s diagnosis explains why a person was experiencing one or more of what healthcare providers and caregivers call the Four A’s of Alzheimer’s.

Four A’s Of Alzheimer’s Diagnosis: Amnesia, Aphasia, Apraxia & Agnosia

Here is a summary of the four A’s of Alzheimer’s (and dementia), all of which can show up at any point along the disease’s progression.

Amnesia (memory loss)

In almost all cases, bouts of regular or worsening amnesia brought you to the physician or neurologist in the first place. Amnesia refers to memory loss, which becomes worse over time. It’s important to note that while some level of memory loss is considered a normal part of the aging process, Alzheimer’s and dementia are not normal or inevitable. Both are neurologic disorders that cause brain cells to shrink and die over time.

Most people with Alzheimer’s struggle with short-term memory loss far more than long-term. This is why they forget to turn off the stove, can’t remember friends’ names, or don’t remember what they did yesterday – but can remember detailed stories from their past.

Aphasia (loss of words)

Aphasia, the inability to recall words, is linked hand in hand with amnesia. In the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s, individuals can become lost mid-sentence. It can take them upwards of a minute or more to recall common words or immediate thoughts. This first phase is called expressive aphasia. 

Over time, aphasia increasingly worsens. By the later stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia, a person may talk completely nonsensically and will eventually lose the ability to speak altogether. They are also unable to follow or participate in conversations, which is referred to as receptive aphasia.

Apraxia (loss of motor skills)

The culture tends to think of Alzheimer’s as a loss of memory, but the decline progresses to all of the body’s systems and functions. The more brain cells die, the more signs and symptoms emerge, including those affecting the physical body. One of the tell-tale signs of dementia’s progression is when it moves from amnesia and aphasia to a decline in voluntary motor control. 

People with Alzheimer’s often develop a shuffling gait and are more prone to tripping and falling. As time moves on, fine motor skills diminish. By the latest stages, a person is typically char or bed-bound, and most of the body’s movements are involuntary (breathing, digesting, blinking, etc.)

Agnosia (failure of the five senses)

Agnosia is the final stage of Alzheimer’s. At this point, the brain no longer processes or accurately interprets information available to the five senses. By this stage of the game, patients require 24/7 care. People with Agnosia are typically 100% bedbound and are often on hospice to increase comfort care while providing support to the client’s spouse or family caregivers.

What To Do After An Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

Once the shock of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis wears off, it’s time to have meaningful conversations about long-term care plans. We all have the right to explore and create end-of-life plans that align with our values and preferences. Because the initial stages of Alzheimer’s include the first two A’s – amnesia and aphasia – time is of the essence.

Start conversations around long-term care planning

These conversations aren’t always easy, but getting things down on paper about a person’s preferences and requests provides invaluable peace of mind. A thoughtful long-term care plan allows spouse and family caregivers to be proactive and eliminate stressful or emotionally challenging complications that take place when there isn’t a plan, and everyone is in crisis mode/

Things to think about include:

The financial plan: paying for Alzheimer’s care

If you don’t have a financial planner, now’s the time to schedule a consultation with a fee-based financial expert who can assess your current financial situation and help you plan for the costs of progressive caregiving needs. Our post, The Cost of Senior Care… is a good place to anchor as you and your loved ones create a long-term plan. 

Most people draw from multiple wells of financial and community-based resources, so there is no “one way fits all” answer to questions about how to pay for Alzheimer’s care. A consultation with a financial planner provides a comprehensive look at your options so you can begin preparing for the months and years ahead. 

Also, did you know spouses and immediate family members can get paid for taking care of family members with Alzheimer’s? A meeting is the local social security office can establish whether or not you qualify.

Focus on healthy lifestyle habits after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis

There is absolutely no doubt that healthy nutrition, lifestyle habits, sleep patterns, and early treatment are vital for slowing down the Four As of Alzheimer’s and its progression. Immediately focus on the lifestyle habits that nourish the body and spirit. 

Begin researching senior care resources in your community

The more senior care resources you have at your disposal, the higher quality of life you and your aging loved one can enjoy. We touched on the need to begin planning for long-term care (in-home, assisted living, memory care, etc.) in #1. Within two to three months after receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, begin meeting with home care agencies and assisted living communities to determine which makes the most sense when Alzheimer’s progresses beyond what you can manage on your own.

Even if you feel you aren’t ready for in-home care services (yet), making connections and getting a feel for what’s available makes a big difference when caregiving needs progress. Plus, even in the early stages, spouse and family caregivers should have a professional respite care plan to get the breaks required to support their mental and emotional well-being.

HomeAide Home Care Is Fluent In The Four A’s

As a longtime Bay Area home care agency, HomeAide Home Care specializes in Alzheimer’s and dementia care. We provide everything from respite and part-time care to overnight and live-in care options. We also work to provide attentive caregiving services to clients who live in assisted living or nursing home facilities.

Contact us to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can support you and your loved ones.

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