Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease, which develops slowly, typically over a period of several years. It affects memory, thinking, language, problem-solving, and even personality and movement. While not everyone will experience the same symptoms, and the disease may progress at different rates most people follow a similar pattern as the disease advances.
Stage one: No impairment. Alzheimer’s is basically undetectable. The person has no memory impairment with no evident symptoms of dementia. Still, changes are occurring in the brain.
Stage two: Very mild cognitive decline. A person begins to experience the typical forgetfulness that we generally associate with aging. They might forget where they left their car keys or their purse. These symptoms are typically not noticed by the individual’s family members or their doctor. It’s important to note that not everyone with mild cognitive impairment will develop Alzheimer’s.
Stage three: Mild cognitive decline. Individuals in this stage experience increased forgetfulness as well as difficulty with focusing. A person may be less productive at work. Household tasks such as cleaning and bill paying may suffer. Additionally, individuals at this stage may get lost or struggle to find the right words in a conversation.
Stage four: Moderate cognitive decline. Stage four is generally known as early-stage dementia. A person with early-stage dementia will start to experience increased forgetfulness, often struggling to remember recent events. They will also start to have even more difficultly with cleaning their home or managing their finances. Additionally, they can struggle with going to unfamiliar areas alone or performing complex tasks.
Stage five: Moderately severe cognitive decline. People experience considerable memory loss and will probably start to need help with the activities of daily living including bathing, dressing, and preparing meals. They may forget basic information, such as their address or phone number.
Stage six: Severe cognitive decline. Stage six brings on a period where a person requires considerable assistance to carry out daily activities. They generally have very little memory of recent events or their earlier lives and forget the names of close friends or family members. Incontinence may occur.
Stage seven: Very severe cognitive decline. At this stage, most individuals will have lost their ability to speak or communicate. They often will require assistance with most activities, 24/7. They may be unable to walk. On average, this final stage lasts 2.5 years. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that gradually worsens. On average, most people live between four and eight years following the diagnosis. If you’d like to learn more, the National Institute on Aging has a great list of frequently asked questions about Alzheimer’s disease. The Greater Kentucky & Southern Indiana chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is also another resource. Our care managers can also help families identify resources for support as well.
Alzheimer’s is a terrible, incurable disease, but knowledge can help prepare family members to care for their loved ones.