Alzheimer’s progresses through several different stages, though it’s effects vary from individual to individual. Learn the common symptoms and changes that occur throughout the evolution of Alzheimer’s.
In the United States, around 5 million seniors have Alzheimer’s disease. That number equates to one in nine (or 11%) of all people age 65 and over.
Currently, experts have identified three major stages of Alzheimer’s: preclinical, mild to moderate, and severe. Here’s a breakdown of the symptoms that occur within each of these major stages, according to information from the National Institute on Aging, WebMD and the Alzheimer’s Association.
Stage 1: Preclinical Alzheimer’s
Symptoms present: None to very mild cognitive decline.
Changes that may occur: Mild memory lapses, such as forgetting everyday words or where things are kept. A medical exam shows no signs of dementia. Studies indicate that brain changes precipitating Alzheimer’s occur during this stage, which may begin as many as 20 years before symptoms are present. So researchers are working to validate biomarker tests that can detect mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s before the onset of symptoms.
Stage 2: Mild to Moderate Cognitive Decline
Symptoms present: Noticeable difficulty with memory and concentration that progresses over the course of several years.
Changes that may occur: Trouble remembering words and names; greater difficulty performing tasks at work or in social settings; losing or misplacing valuable objects; increasing problems planning and organizing; and personality changes.
A doctor’s exam detects clear-cut Alzheimer’s symptoms, such as challenges remembering recent events or performing math tasks. Individuals in this stage may also forget their own personal history and address, make poor judgments with their health or money, and become moody or withdrawn, particularly in social situations.
Stage 3: Severe Cognitive Decline
Symptoms present: Inability to communicate or perform personal care; a decline in physical abilities.
Changes that may occur: Loss of coherent speech; trouble controlling bowels and bladder; wandering or getting lost; groaning or moaning; increased sleeping; forgetting how to swallow; and weight loss.
During severe Alzheimer’s, the brain seems no longer able to tell the body what to do. Individuals become entirely dependent on others for care, including bathing, dressing, eating and other daily tasks. They may recognize familiar faces but not know names and suffer major personality and behavior changes, including delusions and paranoia.
People in this stage typically require assistance walking and may be unable to sit up, smile or hold up their head. Wringing hands and shredding tissues are also common as are abnormal reflexes and rigid muscles.
Eventually, the person may spend the majority of time in bed as the disease reaches its most severe phase.
Rate of Alzheimer’s Progression
Each case of Alzheimer’s is different. On average, people age 65 and over survive four to eight years after Alzheimer’s diagnosis. However, some live for as many as 20 years. The bulk of that time (around 40%) will be spent in the most severe Alzheimer’s stage.
Researchers continue to try to unravel Alzheimer’s stages, and great strides have been made in early detection and treatments that can slow the disease’s progress. Some of these treatments have the potential to extend earlier Alzheimer’s stages when symptoms are less severe.
What changes have you seen in your loved one with Alzheimer’s? Please share your comments below.
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