In the early stages of Alzheimer's, a person may function independently. He or she may still drive, work and be part of social activities. Your role as care partner is an important one: to provide support and companionship, and help plan for the future.
"Early stage" refers to people, irrespective of age, who are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or related disorders and are in the beginning stages of the disease. A person in the early stages may experience mild changes in the ability to think and learn, but he or she continues to participate in daily activities and give-and-take dialogue. To others, the person may not appear to have dementia. The early stages of Alzheimer's can last for years.
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This program, Living with Alzheimer's: For Caregivers: Early Stage, provides practical answers to questions that arise in the early stages of Alzheimer's.
In the early stages, you may act more like a care partner, than a caregiver. Your role is one of support, love and companionship. You are there to help with daily life, as needed, and to help the person with Alzheimer's plan for the future. Since no two people experience Alzheimer's alike, the degree of assistance needed from a care partner in this stage varies.
A person with early-stage Alzheimer's may need cues and reminders to help with memory. For example, he or she may need help with:
- Keeping appointments
- Remembering words or names
- Recalling familiar places or people
- Managing money
- Keeping track of medications
- Doing familiar tasks
- Planning or organizing
Tap into the person's strengths and encourage him or her to continue living as independently as possible. You can help the person stay organized with shared calendars, notes, medication schedules and other reminder systems. Establishing a daily routine and maintaining some regularity will be of benefit.
The person also will need emotional support. He or she may feel frustrated, anxious, embarrassed or isolated. You can help by:
- Encouraging the person to share his or her feelings, and asking how you can be supportive
- Encouraging the person to stay involved in activities he or she enjoys
- Helping the person locate a support group for people in the early stages and their care partners
As a care partner, you also will go through many emotions. Know that you aren't alone. Being part of a community of people going through similar experiences can provide you with support, hope and information. Contact your local Alzheimer's Association chapter to find an early-stage care partner support group near you. You can also join our ALZConnected online support community and message boards.
- Encourage the person with Alzheimer's to continue living as independently as possible.
- Educate yourself about Alzheimer's and caregiver resources. Use Alzheimer’s Navigator, our free online tool that helps guide you to answers by creating customized action plans.
- Make legal and financial care decisions for the future.
- Nurture your relationship by living in and enjoying the moment.
- Think of ways to complete tasks as a team.
- Remember there will be good days and bad days.
- Know that support is available. Other care partners and families affected by early-stage Alzheimer's disease can help you and your family. Contact the Alzheimer's Association to locate a support group.
A diagnosis of Alzheimer's is life changing for both the person with the disease and the care partner. Here are some of the issues you may both face:
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Telling others about a diagnosis of Alzheimer's or dementia is one of the most difficult steps for people diagnosed in the early stages and their care partners. There may be anxiety surrounding who to tell and worry about social stigma. Be open with friends and family about the changes that are taking place. Educate them on the disease and tell them how they can be supportive.
- Life changes.
Even if changes are small at first, a person with early-stage Alzheimer's will have different needs than he or she did before the diagnosis. Support is critical. As a care partner, you'll need a support system in place, too. You may feel anxiety over how your relationship may change or feel distanced from friends and family. Know that you aren't alone, and that help is available.
- Planning for the future.
A Plan in Place: Janet is in the early stages of younger-onset Alzheimer's. She's doing well now, but realizes that eventually she'll have to stop driving. Watch as she talks with her family about a future plan.
- Staying engaged.
People with early-stage Alzheimer's want to stay as engaged and active as possible for as long as possible. As a care partner, you can help foster this by encouraging involvement in daily life and a healthy lifestyle. Staying engaged and healthy is important for care partners as well. Continue being a part of support systems you have in place. Spend time with friends and family. Be a part of activities you love. And don't forget to eat well, exercise and see the doctor regularly.
- Living alone.
With support and resources, many people in the early stages of Alzheimer's live independently. If you are a family member or caregiver for someone who lives on his or her own, stay involved. Call or visit every day, and make sure the person gets the assistance needed, such as help with housekeeping, meals, transportation, bill paying and other daily chores. Put home safety measures in place, and be aware of any changes that would indicate the need for additional supervision or care.
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If you are a care partner for someone with early-stage Alzheimer's, you aren't alone. Get the support and resources you need.
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