How Alzheimer's Evolves From Early to Late Stages

Jennifer Wegerer
By Jennifer WegererJuly 4, 2018

Last Updated: July 4, 2018

Alzheimer’s evolves through several different stages, though its effects vary from individual to individual.

Learn the common signs and symptoms of the disease that occur throughout its progression.

The Evolution of Alzheimer’s

Every 65 seconds someone develops Alzheimer’s disease and over 5.7 million Americans have the disease in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. What’s more, is that deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased 123% between 2000 and 2015.

Medical experts, researchers and scientists continue to work to identify the disease and its symptoms each day. Fortunately, Alzheimer’s experts have been able to determine three major stages of the disease: preclinical, mild to moderate and severe.

Here’s a breakdown of the symptoms that occur as Alzheimer’s evolves through each of these major stages, according to information from the Alzheimer’s AssociationNational Institute on Aging and WebMD.

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 may show 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. Researchers are still 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 names and words; greater difficulty performing tasks at work or in social settings; losing or misplacing valuable objects; increasing problems planning and organizing; 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stage may also forget their own personal history, make poor judgments with their health or money and become moody or withdrawn, particularly in social situations.

As this stage evolves, the person’s struggles with memory and language will worsen more and more. He or she may require a trained caregiver at home or a residential care setting during this stage.

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; wandering; 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 or smile. Wringing hands are also common as are abnormal reflexes and rigid muscles.

Eventually, the person may spend the majority of time in bed as Alzheimer’s evolves to its most severe phase.

The 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 an 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.

Has Alzheimer’s evolved in a senior loved one? What changes have you seen? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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Jennifer Wegerer

Jennifer Wegerer

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