Getting to Know the 7 Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that slowly damages an individual’s thinking skills, memory, and behavior. It refers to the gradual loss of cognitive functions, leading to a person’s inability to perform daily living activities.
A senior diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will need the help and full support of a loved one, family, or memory care services. If you want to help a loved one or a patient, the first thing you need to do is understand everything about the disease, specifically how the condition will unfold over time.
It’s true that Alzheimer’s disease has varying symptoms and can affect each senior differently. Its severity depends on many factors, and there’s no definite box to categorize the illness’s progression.
Usually, doctors use a three-phase model to present Alzheimer’s disease–mild, moderate, and severe. But a doctor from the New York University made a detailed breakdown of the disease’s characteristics and symptoms as it progresses.
The seven-stage timeline is only meant to be a guideline to patients, caregivers, and family members. Expect some inconsistencies and overlap between this guideline and actual events.
Learn the seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease below to better assist your patient or loved one in this journey.
Stage 1: No Symptoms
This is called preclinical Alzheimer’s disease because at this stage, seniors would not feel nor experience any symptoms, yet changes in the brain are already happening. Generally, this stage happens 10 to 15 years before a person experiences a symptom and is diagnosed with the disease.
Stage 2: Very Mild Changes
Here, very mild symptoms may arise, which might commonly be mistaken or dismissed as a normal part of aging. This includes forgetting small things like the location of their keys or the name of a second cousin. But they can still drive, run errands, and live their life independently.
The very faint changes at this stage can look very much like an age-related forgetfulness that even a doctor may not pick up on it as a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
Stage 3: Mild Decline
This is the phase where your senior loved one will show noticeable memory problems that cannot be attributed to age. Also, there would be mild changes in their thinking and reasoning skills. During this stage, your loved one may:
- Forget what they just read or zone off during a conversation.
- Find it difficult to make plans or organize stuff.
- Ask questions repeatedly.
- Forget the names of the people they just met.
- Lose or misplace valuable possessions frequently.
When symptoms start to interfere with your loved one’s life, it’s time to go and consult with a specialist. Doctors usually diagnose Alzheimer’s disease at this stage through memory tests and PET scans. They can also suggest considering memory care services as part of your loved one’s treatment plan.
This stage can be a confusing one for your loved ones due to the worry and anxiety that they might feel. Make sure to let them know what’s happening and reassure them that you have their back during this journey.
Stage 4: Moderate Decline
At this point, the memory problems become more apparent, and other symptoms will start to show, such as organization, calculation, and language difficulties. Seniors with stage 4 Alzheimer’s disease may experience the following:
- Troubles with simple mathematics.
- Moderate short-term memory loss like forgetting what month or day it is. Their long-term memories will become more vivid than recent ones.
- Problems in remembering things about them or the activities they like to do, such as cooking or ordering on a menu.
- Changes in sleeping patterns and increased confusion.
At this stage, it would be best to take hold of a loved one’s financials, help them with everyday chores, and drive for them.
Stage 5: Moderately Severe Decline
Your loved one may maintain some semblance of functionality at this stage (e.g., bathing and toileting), but they need your help in doing other daily living activities.
Brain scans will reveal moderate damages in the brain’s cells during this stage. Thus, making memory loss more severe than before. Your loved one may lose track of time, forget their address or phone number, and may ask the same question over and over again.
During this trying time, your loved one needs a shoulder to lean on and constant reassurance that you will be there to support them.
Moreover, this is also the time to consider getting a skilled caregiver or a facility with memory care services.
Stage 6: Severe Decline
This stage features a decrease in independence and the manifestation of emotional and behavioral symptoms, like:
- Hallucinations and paranoia
- Increased agitation, aggressiveness, and wandering
- Increased delusion, such as thinking that they need to go to work even if they haven’t worked for years.
- Communication problems like having trouble finishing a sentence or even completing a thought.
- Loss of bladder and bowel control.
- Forgetting the names of close family members but can recognize their faces.
Further, seniors will need constant support and assistance in doing their day-to-day activities during this stage. They will need help in taking a bath, dressing and doing their toileting activities.
Also, you may observe your loved one to be more frustrated and anxious with you, but in truth, it’s due to their illness. Remember, not to take anything personally because this is their disease talking and not them.
Stage 7: Very Severe Decline
Stage 7 is characterized by severe impairment in a person’s physical and mental abilities. The ability to do basic activities will slowly fade, such as walking, eating, and even swallowing their food.
At the same time, your loved one will experience severe problems communicating and responding to their environment.
Further, since they have reduced mobility, they will be more prone to develop bacterial and viral infections. That’s why they need 24/7 support and assistance from memory care services.
However, you and other family members still need to get involved in your senior loved one’s life even if they don’t recognize you anymore. You can visit them regularly or join in their activities.