Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. It is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life.
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the stages of progression. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe. Here’s a look at the progressive stages of Alzheimer’s disease:
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No Dementia Seen
Persons who have no objective or subjective symptoms of cognitive and functional decline, as well as any associated behavioral and mood changes at any age can be considered to be mentally healthy. This stage is referred to as Stage 1, or normal.
Subjective Memory Loss
Subjective Cognitive Decline (SCD) is a common condition among people over 65, consisting of cognitive and/or functional difficulties which are not apparent to those around them. SCD can cause memory loss such as difficulty recalling names or where items were recently placed; these symptoms gradually worsen with time.
Mild Cognitive Impairment
People with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) may display subtle deficits that can be noticed by those close to them. These deficits may manifest in different ways; for example, the person might regularly ask questions they have already asked or find it hard to learn new job skills like operating a computer. They could also struggle more when planning social events such as dinner parties and experience difficulty concentrating and increased anxiety.
Moderate Cognitive Decline
At stage 4 of Alzheimer’s Disease, there is an increased difficulty in managing instrumental (complex) daily life activities such as paying bills and shopping independently. Memory loss also becomes more obvious with a decreased ability to recall recent events or even the date/season. Despite these deficits, individuals may still be able to live independently in their community setting but will often display signs of emotional flatness and withdrawal due to denial about their condition.
Moderately Severe Cognitive Decline
In this stage of Alzheimer’s Disease, deficits are severe enough to prevent independent living in the community. People with Alzheimer’s may forget what clothing is appropriate for the weather or normal circumstances and wear the same outfit without being reminded. This stage typically lasts 1.5 years, during which people need assistance with food, rent payments, and other finances as they can no longer manage on their own; if not supported properly they may become angry or suspicious of others. Cognitively speaking, individuals at this stage have difficulty recalling major current events such as who is head of state or knowing their address correctly—information that was previously familiar but has now been lost due to memory impairment. Likewise one cannot recall the names of schools attended many years prior nor remember the correct year we are currently experiencing Advanced calculation skills also diminish so much that even educated persons struggle counting backward from 20 by 2s.
Severe Cognitive Decline
At stage 6, or moderately severe Alzheimer’s disease, people start to need help with basic tasks such as dressing. Without supervision, they may have difficulty putting on clothes correctly and in the right order. As this stage draws to a close, the AD individual who requires aid for dressing and bathing starts showing clear deterioration in their capacity to speak coherently. Signs of stammering (verbigeration), creating new words, using made-up terms, and/or fewer spoken words become apparent.
Very Severe Cognitive Decline
At the final stage of AD, individuals require round-the-clock support with everyday activities. This seventh stage is divided into six distinct functional substages that span approximately 4 and a half years. During Stage 7a, speech becomes limited to only a few intelligible words or less. Rigidity upon examination of major joints such as the elbow becomes common throughout these stages for most people suffering from AD.
The stages of Alzheimer’s disease can vary from person to person. It is important to remember that each individual experiences the disease differently; that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to care. It is also important to remember that while there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are treatments and interventions that can help slow the progression of the disease and improve quality of life.