Trends in aging: Alzheimer's and Dementia Part 6: Intro to Stages of Alzheimer's, 1st Stage

Dec. 13, 2013 at 6:13 a.m.

By Wendy McHaney

This next series of columns will highlight the various stages of Alzheimer's and dementia.

My home care company utilizes a training program for our caregivers and their families that focus on six stages of progression.

Our program, Senior Gems, was developed by Teepa Snow, a dementia care and dementia education specialist, and is based on the Allen Cognitive Disability Theory. It identifies each stage of Alzheimer's as follows: sapphire, diamond, emerald, amber, ruby and pearl.

The first stage, known as the sapphire stage, is basically normal aging. Although normal aging does cause changes in brain function, intelligence actually stays intact with age. Some may find that it improves. There are some things, however, that do change with age:

Normally aging people can still learn new things, it just may take a little longer.

Recalling information, especially recent information, can take longer.

The ability to handle information from many sources at one time may decrease.

There are a number of things a spouse, son, daughter or other caregiver can do to help their loved one with these subtle changes in memory:

Avoid large social settings as all of the new information coming in can be overwhelming

Keep lists

Follow a daily routine

Keep important items, such as keys, in the same place all of the time

Keep a detailed calendar

Upon introductions to new people, repeat names

Daily exercise is important as well as engaging in activities, like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, board games and card games.

An important matter to remember is that normal aging brings about social changes as well. One of the hard truths about getting older is dealing with loss, often many different losses at the same time - health, job, money, home and death of family and friends. All of these losses can lead to "bereavement overload," and they should be recognized and given time to heal and grieve.

Two other important emotional needs of older adults included having a sense of control and being involved in decisions. If a family member or caregiver recognizes this in their loved one, it is helpful to encourage making wishes clear and sharing points of view. Finally, it is important to recognize that change can be problematic for older adults.

My next column will discuss the first stage of dementia wherein cognitive changes are no longer considered normal.

Sources: SH Franchising Senior Gems training materials

Wendy McHaney is a certified senior adviser and the owner and director of operations of Senior Helpers. For more information about Senior Helpers, visit



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