7 Stages of Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive and fatal brain disease with no known cure at the moment.  As many as 5 million Americans are living with this disease.  While there are some interesting treatment ideas, and preventative measures out there, there is no specific cure as of yet.  This disease destroys the brain cells and causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.  It gets progressively worse for each person over time and causes significant adjustments in the life of the patient and in the lives of those around them.

There are seven known stages of Alzheimer's that help loved ones to know what to expect.  While not everyone goes through exactly the same process with Alzheimer's, these stages are the basic framework for understanding the disease and its progression.  These seven Alzheimer's stages are based on work done by Dr. Barry Reisberg at the New York University School of Medicine's Silberstein Aging and Dementia Research Center.  

Stage One - Normal Function

During this stage, there is no visible problem and the disease is usually not yet identified.  The patient has no memory problems and their issues would not be identified during an evaluation.

Stage Two - Mild Cognitive Decline

This stage is difficult to identify, because it includes normal memory loss that most older people experience.  During this stage, a person might forget familiar words or locations of objects once in a while.  These are subtle changes that are not yet obvious to loved ones or doctors.

Stage Three - Beginning Cognitive Decline

At this stage, Alzheimer's can be identified in some patients, though not in all.  Here, family and friends start to notice a change in the individual.  General difficulties would include problems with words and with the ability to remember names.  The person could show problems with retaining information from reading materials, problems with misplacing objects and a decline in the ability to plan or organize.  Both memory and concentration issues could be measured in clinical testing at this point.

Stage Four - Mild or Early- Stage Alzheimer's

At this stage, a medical professional would be able to point to clear-cut problems in many areas.  The person would show a lack of knowledge or recent occasions or of current events.  They may have trouble with basic math including counting backwards.  They forget pieces of their own background or history.  They may begin to be reticent in social situations or in mentally challenging situations.

Stage 5 - Moderately Severe Cognitive Issues

At this stage, the person will need some assistant with daily activities.  They may become confused often about where they are, what day it is, and more.  They might need help selecting appropriate clothing for the season.  During a medical interview, they would have trouble with details such as their phone number, address, high school, etc.  They would still be able to eat and use the toilet on their own, and would usually be able to recall most information about themselves and their family.

Stage 6 -   Severe Decline in Cognitive Function

During this stage, there is a significant change in the individual which requires a great deal of assistance.  Individuals may lose most awareness of recent events, and of their own personal history.  They will usually still know their name, but become disoriented with many other family details.  They can usually distinguish among familiar and unfamiliar faces.  They will need help getting dressed and dressing appropriately for the weather and the occasion.  They may need help with the toilet.  Furthermore, they may show personality changes and problems include suspicion of people, delusions, hallucinations, repetitive behavior and more.  They easily wander and become lost.

Stage 7 - Severe Decline

This is the last stage of the disease, and clearly the most debilitating.  Most people lose their ability to respond to their environment, to speak and to control their movements.  They probably need help, at this point, with using the toilet, eating, getting dressed, walking, and more.  Their swallowing is impaired and their reflexes and body movement become rigid.

Many older people experience similar stages to those listed above, in one form or another.  Just because you know someone who exhibits some of these behaviors does not mean that this person has Alzheimer's.  However, should you notice changes in a loved one, it is important to seek medical assistance and to see if a diagnosis is necessary.  If the person does have Alzheimer's, then this progression will be helpful for you, as they move from one stage of the disease to the next.


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