Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia which affects memory, thinking and behavior. Dementia is a general term for loss of cognitive function. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases.
While some decline in abilities is normal as we age, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. It is a progressive disease, where the symptoms gradually worsen over time. Everyone does not experience the same symptoms and the disease will progress differently for each individual, however there is a similar trajectory most people follow through the progression of the disease, which is broken down into seven stages.
It can be difficult to determine which stage your loved one is in because these stages may overlap, and they are only meant as a guideline. If you believe a loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s or other dementia, it’s important to gain help from a trusted professional.
Stage One: Prior to Symptoms
As with many diseases, changes in the brain relating to Alzheimer’s begin before any symptoms are noticeable. “Pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease” likely begins 10-15 years prior to symptoms, and there is currently no treatments at this stage. The risk of Alzheimer’s increases as we age, which is why it’s important to keep up with visits to your primary care physician to monitor any progression of the disease.
Stage Two: Very Mild Cognitive Decline
At this stage, the individual begins experiencing basic forgetfulness, and very early stages of Alzheimer’s may appear as normal symptoms of aging. It’s normal to be forgetful from time to time, but at this stage your loved ones may be having memory lapses including forgetting where they left their keys or not remembering a name, but can remain social, drive and work. When you start to notice the memory lapses becoming more frequent, this is a good time to try and get treatment to slow the progression.
Stage Three: Mild Cognitive Decline
This stage brings noticeable changes that are harder to blame on age. These changes may range from a decreased performance at work or with ordinary household tasks like paying bills or cleaning. They may become more forgetful and lose things more often or have difficulty remembering plans or remembering names or common words. It is normal for your loved ones to feel increased anxiety due to these changes, and it’s not uncommon for people to deny there is a problem. Treatment options, like medication and care planning can help ease this transition.
Stage Four: Early Stage Dementia
At stage four, an individual is considered to have early-stage dementia. (Early-stage dementia differs from early-onset Alzheimer’s or early-onset dementia, which refers to individuals who begin experiencing symptoms prior to age 65.) Individuals experiencing early-stage dementia begin experiencing issues with many aspects of cognition, such as memory, language, and calculations. This stage can last many years, and at this time, they may have difficulty remembering recent events, have troubles concentrating or solving problems, and struggle to manage finances and daily life. You may also notice there is an increased risk of them wandering off or getting lost or having difficulty with choosing appropriate clothing for the occasion or season. These changes can be difficult for your aging loved ones to cope with, and they may react with personality changes, mood swings, depression, and distrust of others. At this point, a healthcare provider will be able to easily identify cognitive decline, and will recommend solutions including, but not limited to, medication.
Stage Five: Mid-Stage Dementia
Up to this point, your aging loved one may have been able to live independently with few challenges. However, now you may notice that they require assistance with many aspects of daily life, such as dressing, bathing, or preparing meals. During this stage, it is likely they will have trouble being able to remember information such as where they live or their phone number, and they are experiencing disorientation towards time or place. Hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia are all common symptoms.
Stage Six: Severe Cognitive Decline
Many individuals at this stage have little memory of recent events or close friends and family members. Communication becomes increasingly difficult, as your loved ones may have trouble explaining pain or emotions at this point. They will struggle with basic tasks and cognitive abilities. You may also notice strong personality changes, such as increased anxiety or agitation as your loved one struggles with their loss of independence.
Stage Seven: Late-Stage Dementia
At this final stage, your loved one will typically lose the ability to communicate or speak properly, and their needs will increase. Often, they will need assistance with many aspects of daily living around the clock. Many at this stage lose their ability to control psychomotor capabilities and are unable to walk or need significant help moving.
The progression of Alzheimer’s is different for everyone, and it’s important for family and caregivers to familiarize yourself with the stages of progression. You may find yourself overwhelmed when dealing with the many aspects of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. The good news is, you don’t need to face this alone. Our experienced team is here to help you and your aging parent with this disease. Call 585-787-0009 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.