The progression of Alzheimer's disease occurs in three stages. Each stage brings challenges to caregivers, many of whom could use help in learning to tend to those in their care.
During the third-annual Dementia Caregiver Conference, presented by the Alzheimer's Association National Capital Area Chapter and the Prince William Agency on Aging, caregivers will learn how to cope with the trials of dealing with the disease.
The conference will run between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 4, at the Edward R. Kelley Leadership Center, at 14715 Bristow Road.
Jane Priest, the association's regional manager for programs and services, said that early-stage Alzheimer's brings problems with memory, thinking and concentration. Typically, people in the early stages of Alzheimer's need minimal assistance with everyday living but challenges begin to crop up. "Families may notice a variety of symptoms of varying degree. Some days the person appears just fine. Getting a diagnosis can be made more stressful when the person denies that there is anything wrong, especially when he or she has good days."
As the disease progresses to the middle stage, people with Alzheimer's will have a harder time managing the activities of daily living. Family and caregiver relationships change as more care is required and safety may become a concern, Priest said. "Caregivers must learn new techniques to provide personal care, be prepared for unexpected behavior situations and manage emergencies. Reaching out to community resources and support is essential for caregivers."
In the late stage, caregivers will need to give around-the-clock care. The person suffering with Alzheimer's cannot be left alone and care is beyond the capabilities of a single caregiver. "Caregivers providing care in the late stages will face the challenge of still being able to connect with and communicate with their loved one. Verbal communication is mostly through tone of voice and facial expressions. It is at this stage that families may consider placing their loved one in a residential care community."
Ed Harrison, the community-based services division manager for the area agency on aging, said people who attend the conference will learn techniques to help them deal with and get through the three stages of caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's.
Harrison said people with Alzheimer's and their caregivers experience the disease in differing ways, but the conference should help those who attend. "The classes will give people general guidelines on what might work and help a little bit. In all of the stages it takes understanding and patience."
Harrison said the conference prepares caregivers for what's coming. "I look at Alzheimer's as uneven stair steps. You don't know how long a person is going to be at given level, or when the next change is coming, so planning is extremely important. Sometimes families are just white knuckling it – just kind of holding on and treading water. Having a plan is important. If nothing else, it lets you know where you're going next."
Seating is limited and the free conference fills quickly. To register with your name, call 703-766-9018 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Refreshments and a box lunch will be provided.