Alzheimer's Disease is a progressive brain disease that affects mental functioning. People affected by Alzheimer's disease develop a gradual change in memory and personality. There currently is not any treatment that will cure Alzheimer's. The goal of treatment is to slow the progression by approximately 3-6 months and is most effective when initiated during an early stage of the disease.
There are 7 stages of Alzheimer's disease. Each stage builds upon the next and may overlap. Some people develop symptoms years before getting a diagnosis. Everyone progresses through the stages at different rates. Some may rapidly advance through the stages while others may linger in each stage. Presentation of the disease is individual. No two people with Alzheimer's will present exactly the same. A person in any one of the stages may have good days and bad days. Their mood, memory and ability to function can change throughout the day. The vague symptoms of this disease makes it difficult for families to recognize that their loved one needs an evaluation.
Below is a general guide to help you recognize some of the signs and symptoms of the disease.
Stage 1: (No Impairment) Changes in the brain are beginning to occur, however there are not any noticeable impairments in memory or personality.
Stage 2: (Very Mild Impairment) The first signs include, lapses in memory, such as forgetting where you put something or forgetting what you were going to say. Forgetfulness that can be contributed to stress or the normal aging process. This stage is very subtle and the symptoms are not usually detected by family, friends, or the medical provider.
Stage 3: (Mild Decline) Increased problems with short term memory resulting in the inability to learn new material. Trouble planning and organizing simple task such as planning meals. Word substitution; for example, the person may call the dining room the table room, or a restaurant the eating place. Household items may be found in odd places, a book in the refrigerator, or ice cream in the cupboard. Very subtle personality changes occur, including moodiness, and isolation. It is common for the person affected to hide their symptoms during this stage. They may appear to be lying when in reality they do not remember, and they communicate what they believe at that time to be true. Often people are not diagnosed during this stage. The symptoms are vague and the doctor may give the diagnosis of depression versus Alzheimer's disease. This is a very frightening time the person is aware that something is wrong, but may not admit it. Denial, depression and/or anxiety may set in.
Stage 4: (Moderate Decline) Short term memory continues to decline, resulting in lack of ability to remember recent events. Planning and carrying out a task becomes increasingly difficult. They may not be able to prepare a meal or remember to eat. Noted difficulty with arithmetic problems or managing finances occurs. The person will repeat the same statement over and over. Clothing may be put on backwards or mismatched. They often stop participating in hobbies or projects that they once enjoyed. Noticeable personality changes such as mood swings, paranoia, accusing family and friends of stealing from them and social withdrawal. At this point assistance is usually needed to manage day to day activities.
Stage 5: ( Moderate - Severe decline) In this stage, severe gaps in memory and judgement occur. Safety becomes a major issue. Assistance to manage day to day activities is needed. The person may forget to bathe, or they may dress in inappropriate clothing. They forget their own address and become lost in familiar surroundings. Loved ones notice increased repetition of conversation, persevering or fixation on the same topics. They will have difficulty understanding complex ideas. Often the person will remember significant things about them self.
Stage 6: (Severe decline) Often unaware of their surroundings. Some will still know their own name. Often can distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar people, but may not know the person's name, or why they are familiar. Needs assistance with normal activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, toileting, hygiene, and eating. Conversation may not make sense; speech may not be clear; words and sounds may become tangled. Symptoms of anxiety may present as picking at clothing, and skin, or repetitive hand wringing. Some people become delusional and/or suspicious, and agitated. The person is unable to identify familiar objects, or use them correctly. They may wander and get lost.
Stage 7: (Very Severe decline) This is the final stage of Alzheimer's disease. The person no longer recognizes their surroundings, or who they are. They will loose the ability to walk, hold up their own head, and communicate in a meaningful manner. Muscles become rigid, and contractures develop. They loose the ability to swallow. At this stage the person will require complete care.
No two people with Alzheimer's disease will experience or progress through the symptoms in the exact same way. The above is a reference to be used for general guidance only. Should any of the above symptoms develop, it is recommended that you speak with your physician.
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