Understanding Alzheimer’s Stages and Symptoms.

The following covers three generally accepted Alzheimer's stages- mild, moderate and severe. However it is not uncommon to hear of five or seven stages which give a more detailed breakdown of symptoms. As with all types of dementia, the symptoms associated with each stage will vary from person to person.

Links are also provided for more detailed medical and scientific descriptions, which are not covered here.

Understanding Alzheimer's Disease

  • Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia affecting 60-80% of people with dementia.
  • Alzheimer’s disease affects 30% of the elderly over 85, with the majority being women. It is not a normal part of aging, although age is the greatest risk factor. As the world’s population ages, Alzheimer’s is becoming a more common cause of death, and an increasing drain on the economy.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease, with symptoms worsening over time. It cannot be medically prevented, cured, or slowed. As brain cells die, and nerve connections diminish, the total brain size shrinks.

Alzheimer's Stages and Symptoms

There are three general stages of Alzheimer’s disease which can provide a basic guide for the progression of the disease. However many experts will define five or seven Alzheimer's stages to ensure a more thorough diagnosis. With these more detailed categories, the first two stages are considered pre-clinical.

Pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease covers the stages before symptoms appear sufficiently to warrant a dementia diagnosis. During this stage, the disease causes changes to the brain which can continue for years before becoming visible symptoms.

Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include short term memory loss, which deepens to long term memory loss as the disease progresses. As memory loss is common in many types of dementia, a doctor’s diagnosis is essential.

Alzheimer's Stages- Mild or Early Stage

During the early stage, a person can still function independently, however they do start showing some signs of dementia. Problems with memory or concentration will be noticed by close family and friends, and a detailed medical consultation will confirm a dementia diagnosis.

During this stage a person will have difficulty with remembering recent events, problem solving or expressing themselves. They will also misplace things and get disorientated or lost easily. Feelings of irritability or reduced motivation may occur either as a symptom of the disease, or out of frustration at the inability to function at full capacity.

Alzheimer's Stages- Moderate Stage

During the moderate stage a person will need more and more help conducting their daily activities. They should still be able to perform daily tasks such as bathing or dressing, but these will become increasingly difficult. Assistance will be needed to organise finances and operate appliances.

During this stage, increased memory loss will significantly impact their day to day functioning. They may forget their personal details, their address or phone number. As the disease progresses, they may not recognise familiar faces, or remember the names of close friends and family.

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease which become apparent during the moderate stage include:

  • Memory loss- especially of recent events, or well-know people or places, forgetting where things have been put, forgetting appointments or getting lost easily.
  • Confusion, vagueness, or inability to find the correct word when conversing, often making speech and writing mistakes.
  • Difficulty to process information, instructions or questions.
  • Difficulty in performing routine tasks, difficulty in multi-tasking or planning complex activities.
  • Poor judgement in decision making, or assessing situations or risks.
  • Unpredictable behaviour or emotions, including mood swings, depression, apathy, and social withdrawal.
  • Difficulty speaking, swallowing or walking.
  • Repeating questions, statements or stories.

  • As the disease progresses, the behavioral symptoms which worsen include:

  • Mood swings and unacceptable behaviour becoming more severe leading to paranoia and delusions.
  • Inappropriate judgement, with logical thinking impaired.
  • Hygiene neglected, due to forgetfulness and increased apathy.
  • Physical abilities further diminish, making chewing, swallowing, movement and co-ordination difficult, and incontinence commonplace.
  • Sleeping disrupted, with day and night sleep patterns mixed up.

  • Lifelong skills learned in childhood, such as reading, singing, dancing, telling stories or reminiscing, are not lost till very late in the disease. Engaging and encouraging these activities can greatly enhance the quality of life as the disease progresses.

    Alzheimer's Stages- Severe Stage

    During the severe stage a person will need full time assistance with even basic day to day activities. They will lose the ability to walk unaided, and eventually to stand and sit unsupported. Symptoms include:

  • Total memory loss.
  • Inability to communicate.
  • Inability to carry out basic daily living activities.
  • Inability to control basic bodily functions, resulting in complete incontinence, inability to talk or swallow.
  • Unresponsive and withdrawn.

  • Death as a result of Alzheimer’s disease occurs when the body becomes unable to maintain proper organ function, or unable to fight off infections.

    * For more detailed medical and scientific analysis, refer to: Alz.org-What Is Alzheimers. See also: DementiaCareCentral.com and BrightFocus.org-Progression Alzheimers Disease 

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