Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia, is a progressive disease, meaning symptoms gradually worsen over years. Alzheimer’s can gradually erode individuals’ cognitive abilities, such as memory and thinking capacity. At some point, symptoms become severe enough to interfere with regular activities. Alzheimer’s typically affects people older than 65 but a small number of individuals experience “early-onset” Alzheimer’s in their 30s and 40s.
Many older individuals worry about a decline in memory and thinking skills. This could mean forgetting to pay a bill or having trouble remembering names and finding words in conversations. These changes are typically part of normal aging. However, when memory issues start to interfere with regular activities and daily life, this can indicate abnormal aging. Forgetting your way home, having problems performing daily tasks, or losing track of the date or time of year are potential early signs of dementia.
Recognizing the different stages of Alzheimer’s can help family members identify the appropriate level of care. In this post, we will provide a general idea of how to recognize different stages of Alzheimer’s: early, middle, and late-stage Alzheimer’s. These 3 stages may sometimes overlap.
In this early stage, an individual may still function independently. He or she may still engage in social events, drive, and work. However, they may have memory lapses, such as forgetting things or words. Other challenges also include:
- Finding the right word or name
- Remembering names
- Forgetting what they have just read
- Forgetting where they put a valuable object
- Having difficulty planning or organizing
Middle-stage Alzheimer’s typically lasts for many years and is the longest stage among the three stages. In this stage, the individual with Alzheimer’s will need a higher level of care as dementia symptoms become more pronounced. The symptoms, which can differ from person to person, could include:
- Forgetting past experiences or personal history
- Feeling moody or isolated, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations
- Forgetting their address or telephone numbers, and high school or college they attended
- Having trouble remembering where they are or what day it is
- Requiring help choosing appropriate clothing for the season or the situation
- Having issues with bowel and bladder control
- Experiencing changes in sleep patterns
- Having an increased tendency to wander and become lost
- Showing personality and behavioral changes
As Alzheimer’s progresses, individuals can gradually lose the ability to react to the surrounding environment, carry on a conversation, and control movement. Additionally, individuals may have significant personality changes and require extensive care. In the late stage, individuals may:
- Require 24-hour assistance with daily personal care
- Lose physical abilities, such as walking, sitting, and eating
- Have difficulty communicating
- Become vulnerable to infections, especially pneumonia
- Lose awareness of recent experiences and surroundings
Alzheimer’s disease usually develops gradually and escalates from mild to severe symptoms. The rate of progression varies greatly from person to person. The usual lifespan of someone with Alzheimer’s is 4 to 8 years after diagnosis, but some people live for up to 20 years.
Being able to recognize the stages of Alzheimer’s is important, but that’s just the start. With this knowledge, individuals and their family members can communicate with doctors or healthcare professionals more easily and make sure they are receiving the care they need.