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There are seven stages of Alzheimer's disease starting with the first stage, which is assigned to a person who does not yet show any indications of the disease. The seventh stage is the most advanced. Patients in the seventh stage, the end stage of Alzheimer's disease, need constant care until they die.
The Alzheimer's Association website characterizes the seventh stage of Alzheimer's disease as a "very severe cognitive decline." More than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease, a major cause of death in the United States. Since Alzheimer's disease destroys the cells in its victims' brain, the disease is progressive and incurable, and it causes more than half of the incidents of old-age dementia.
People who are in the end stage of Alzheimer's disease seem to become detached. They no longer know where they are in space and time. They may have difficulty remembering who their closest friends and relatives are from one moment to the next. It can be very difficult to get them to respond at all.
This social detachment is intensified by a loss of the ability to speak, use and understand language. Not only do people at the end stage of Alzheimer's disease forget what familiar items are called, but they also lose the ability to solve problems or make logical connections between ideas.
The end stage of Alzheimer's disease is when the patient has the least motor control over her own body. As the disease progresses, patients lose their ability to feed themselves. They also lose continence so they eventually need to wear adult diapers. By the end of the disease, patients can no longer walk or even sit upright. They lose their normal reflexes, grow stiff and have difficulty swallowing.
According to experts on late-stage Alzheimer's disease at the Mayo Clinic, caregivers may experience difficult emotions as they see their loved one become less and less able to function. In addition, the physical challenges of having to lift the patient can become overwhelming or impossible especially when added to the lack of sleep caused by being on call 24/7. Feelings of guilt and the sometimes inevitable need to transition the patient to a nursing home make coping with the disease even harder on the family. Talk with your family doctor or a hospital social worker to find out the options in your community for respite care and residential care if you are a caregiver of a patient with late-stage Alzheimer's disease and need help.