Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. The condition is characterized by the loss of cognitive functions that results in the deterioration of the patient’s overall quality of life. Not only do they go through a loss in memory, decline in problem-solving ability, poor comprehension, and other cognitive functions, but they also experience personality changes. It ultimately leads to the patient losing their independence as they are forced to rely on others to help with basic activities like maintaining good personal hygiene.
Alzheimer’s affects people differently, depending on various factors. However, all people with the condition end up following the same path. It is a progressive disease, so it usually starts with very mild symptoms. You may find yourself losing track of time, getting lost, and being forgetful about minor details like a call you were supposed to make or the whereabouts of your wallet. However, since the symptoms are very mild and don’t occur frequently, they go unnoticed. Many people would just assume them, and some medical practitioners may not pick them up. As the condition progresses, the symptoms become more obvious, but this may take 4 to 5 years. At this point, people start realizing that they actually have a problem that needs medical help. Sadly, at this point, the condition is usually at a very progressed stage, which means that intervention is not as beneficial as it could have been if it were started at an earlier stage.
The progression of Alzheimer’s can be explained in several distinct stages. The stages are normally seven, but some people cover them in three broad categories. These are mild, moderate, and severe or early, middle, and late stages. As the name suggests, the mild/early stage is where the condition starts with few and mild symptoms. The patient usually experiences certain signs, but they are not severe enough to affect their day-to-day life. Also, most people are never aware of the condition at this stage. In the moderate or middle stage, the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease become clearer. You can now tell that you or a loved one has a medical issue that needs to be addressed. Physicians also have an easier time diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease at this stage. Some people may need moderate assistance, while others won’t. Finally, we have the severe or late stage. This is where the symptoms become very alarming. The patients lose their independence completely, so they need a caregiver to be near them round the clock.
That’s the summary of the three general stages of Alzheimer’s disease. However, Dr. Barry Reisberg of New York University Langone and Director of the Fisher Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Research Program explained the stages of Alzheimer’s disease in finer details in seven clinical stages. These are also known as the Global Deterioration Scale or GDS.
Here is what each stage entails.
There are no noticeable symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease at this stage. The only way to really know is through tests that screen for possible biomarkers. The doctor will check your family history and see whether you are genetically predisposed to have the condition.
At this stage, people usually live a normal life without the need for any help. The stage can last for years and even decades.
Very Mild Impairment
The second stage of Alzheimer’s is characterized by forgetfulness. Now, forgetfulness is common among seniors. Everyone aged 65 years and older will have a difficult time remembering specific details. However, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease will experience forgetfulness at a larger scale than other healthy old people. A good example here is about forgetting relatives. A healthy old person will rarely forget a spouse or daughter they spent so much of their life with. However, someone with Alzheimer’s can easily forget the names of a close family member.
Forgetfulness and memory impairment are common symptoms at this stage, but they are usually very mild. Therefore, the patient will still be able to go on with their everyday life without any assistance.
Mild Impairment and Decline
The number and severity of symptoms increase slightly at this stage. However, they are still not clear enough to tell with absolute certainty that there is a problem that needs a professional’s help. A close family member will notice that the forgetfulness has become more frequent. They will also see several other symptoms of Alzheimer’s if they are keen enough.
Physicians have a harder time picking the symptoms of Alzheimer’s at this stage. They have to do more intensive tests and interviews to diagnose the issue.
Some of the signs observed at this stage are frequent forgetfulness about people, words, and places. They also tend to get lost in familiar places, a decline in concentration, misplacing of items like keys and wallets, etc.
Patients can still do most tasks without any assistance. However, the quality of their work will decline. They may also start suffering psychologically with denial and anxiety. Counseling is highly-encouraged at this stage.
Mild Alzheimer’s Disease
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s become more evident at this stage. It’s also easier to diagnose Alzheimer’s during the fourth stage.
The number of symptoms will increase, and they will become slightly more severe. Complex tasks will become harder to undertake. Memory loss becomes more rampant; you may even forget about your family history. Quick and simple arithmetic will become difficult, so you won’t be able to take care of your finances and bills. Drastic mood changes will also get more apparent with increased denial and withdrawal.
The fourth stage lasts about two years. Some basic tasks are still doable at this stage, but any complex activities will require assistance. For instance, you or a loved one will need some help when writing checks or clearing bills.
Moderately Severe Decline
Memory loss increases during the fifth stage. Some people may still remember their names and some of their close family members but not other people. They will also forget about addresses, appointments, and major events. Confusion about people, places, and time will also increase at this stage.
If the patient is not receiving any counseling or proper support from a caregiver, they will become more aggressive, moody, and suspicious.
The fifth stage of Alzheimer’s disease lasts for around 1.5 years. Support is necessary at this point.
Moderately Severe Alzheimer’s Disease
This is where even the most basic of activities will require assistance. For instance, patients have a hard time maintaining their hygiene. They will need assistance with bathing, choosing clothes, and even wearing them correctly. Bathroom trips will also get complex for them. They may even forget about using or throwing the tissue paper away, and as the condition worsens, they can lose bowel and bladder control altogether.
Memory loss will also worsen. You won’t be able to count from 10 backward, and personality changes will become severe. They may also become frustrated, paranoid, and suspicious.
This stage lasts 2.5 years.
Not only do the patients require assistance with their day-to-day tasks, but they’ll also need continued psychological and behavioral counseling.
Severe Alzheimer’s Disease
The final stage of Alzheimer’s disease lasts about 1 to 1.5 years. All the symptoms become severe at this point. Speech declines considerably. You will not be able to form longer sentences anymore. Sitting up independently becomes impossible, and so does holding your head up. You lose your speed, and your smile will be replaced with some grim facial expressions/movements.
Some people may also experience hardening of tendons, muscles, and other body tissues and may be rendered immobile.
In simpler words, you will experience severe physical and mental impairment. Therefore, you will need help 24/7.
Preventing and Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease does not have a cure, so all we can do is prevent and manage it. You can prevent or lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by living an active life where you exercise physically and mentally. You also want to eat healthily, manage your stress, and get quality sleep.
That said, early intervention is very important in dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. The earlier you can get the medications, the better you will handle the symptoms. It helps to slow the progression of the diseases and prolong your independence. There are different medications used to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Counseling is also necessary to manage the psychological and behavioral symptoms.
Hopefully, this article removes any uncertainties you may have about the stages and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Get in touch with a medical practitioner near you right away in case you feel like you have any of the symptoms discussed.