Alzheimer’s disease starts with mild, sometimes unnoticeable symptoms that slowly have a more and more significant effect on a person’s ability to function. The rate of progression varies from a couple of years to twenty years or longer, but Alzheimer’s will eventually progress through the following stages, as described by Barry Reisberg, M.D. of the New York University School of Medicine’s Silberstein Aging and Dementia Research Center:
Stage 1: No symptoms of dementia are present. However, evidence shows that changes to the brain begin long before symptoms develop.
Stage 2: Very mild cognitive decline begins, which can be similar to normal changes associated with aging. The person may have trouble finding words or misplace things easily, but dementia cannot be detected in an exam.
Stage 3: Mild cognitive decline that starts to be noticeable to family or co-workers. Issues such as trouble remembering names, finding the right words, short-term memory, and planning and organization, but diagnosis may not be possible.
Stage 4: Moderate cognitive decline that can be diagnosed as early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. The symptoms are more clear in this stage, and will include short-term memory issues, trouble with mental math, difficulty performing complex tasks and changes in mood.
Stage 5: Moderately severe cognitive decline, also known as mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease. At this time, the cognitive decline is noticeable, and often the person’s ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs) like cooking and grocery shopping begins to decline. Confusion is pronounced.
Stage 6: Severe cognitive decline occurs. Memory continues to get worse, and personality changes occur. The person may have trouble remembering their personal history, may forget the names of their spouse or caregiver and may need help with ADLs such as dressing and toileting. Changes in sleep patterns are common, and wandering can be a problem. Suspiciousness, delusions or compulsive behavior may develop.
Stage 7: Very severe cognitive decline, also known as late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. The person is no longer able to carry on a conversation, respond to the environment, or control their own movements. The person needs extensive help with ADLs, including eating and using the toilet. This stage of Alzheimer’s becomes fatal.
For more information about resources for Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers, visit http://alz.org.
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