Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia — an illness of the brain that affects a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. Memory, emotions, mood, behaviour and language are all affected, and because the disease is progressive, the symptoms worsen over time. There are many forms of dementia, but Alzheimer’s disease is the most common among older people.
The stages of Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease progresses through three general stages, from a mild, early stage, through a moderate, mid stage, to a severe, late stage. It starts slowly, and in fact, when the disease begins affecting the brain, there are no outward signs or symptoms.
Alzheimer’s disease: mild (or early) stage
In mild Alzheimer’s disease, the main thing that occurs is a decline in cognition. This means that the ability to think, reason, recognize and interpret is affected, and mild forgetfulness is typically the first noticeable sign of the disease.
- People living with the disease, as well as their families, friends, co-workers, and medical practitioners, will start to notice the signs, such as problems with concentration.
- Language and communication difficulties may appear, such as trouble finding the right word when speaking, and difficulty keeping up with a conversation or reading.
- Poor planning, poor judgment or becoming lost even in familiar settings may also begin to show.
- Personality changes may become noticeable, including becoming more withdrawn, anxious, or suspicious. Changes in personality, as well as behaviour, begin to appear. As a result, people seem less like themselves — and the challenge, at this point, is to try to connect with them in new ways that engage and stimulate them.
- A general apathy and lack of interest are characteristic of all three stages of the disease, but they begin here.
Additionally, people and their loved ones may initially be in denial about what is actually happening. Once the disease has been diagnosed by a doctor, though, it’s important to monitor the emotional well-being of that person and offer them support and reassurance. In early Alzheimer’s disease, a person can usually still function independently and may participate in their health decisions and planning for their future care despite the fact that memory loss and other cognitive deficits become noticeable.
Alzheimer’s disease: moderate (or middle) stage
In mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease:
- The person becomes more dependent on caregivers as mental abilities decline, personality changes, and physical problems develop. For instance: The person can still bathe, use the toilet and dress, although he or she might need help to do so.
- Symptoms such as the loss of ability to identify familiar people, disorientation about time and place, agitation, depression, irritability, and rarely, aggression, may all appear at this time.
It is important for caregivers to give the person with the disease the chance to do as much as their remaining abilities allow them on their own. This can be done by simplifying the task at hand (for example, dividing it into easier, smaller steps), and by maintaining the routines the person is used to.
Alzheimer’s disease: severe (or late) stage
In late-stage, severe Alzheimer’s disease:
- A person will eventually be unable to walk, talk, sit up, or control their bowels or bladder, making them completely dependent on their caregivers for help in basic activities of daily living.
- They also suffer from a number of other diseases and conditions that have nothing to do with Alzheimer’s disease but can be life-threatening; pneumonia, for instance, is a significant cause of death among people with the disease.
At this point, the main objective is to make the person feel as comfortable as possible by alleviating pain or any distressing symptom that they may be experiencing.
More information, support and resources
Want more information and support? Search “Alzheimer’” in Find Support for organizations in your area.
If you’re a caregiver, explore Advice for caregivers for information created with you in mind.