Like many other conditions, Azheimer’s disease progresses through symptoms and stages. From early onset Alzheimer’s to the final stages, understanding symptoms can help you make sense when all seems confusing.
Identifying Alzheimer’s disease stages and symptoms makes it possible to progress through challenges and clarifies behavior patterns. Keep reading for the seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease and tips for deciphering what stage you, or a loved one, are in.
What Are the 7 Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. As the disease progresses, memory loss occurs. Over time, even simple daily activities become difficult or even dangerous.
Although Alzheimer’s disease can look different for everyone, there are generally seven stages a person will experience. Identifying these stages can help caregivers and loved ones make sense of troubling behavior patterns.
Here is a brief overview of the seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease, followed by details on each stage:
- No impairment
- Very mild cognitive impairment
- Mild cognitive decline
- Moderate dementia
- Moderately severe cognitive decline
- Severe cognitive decline
- Very severe cognitive decline
Stage 1: No Impairment
This early stage of Alzheimer’s can fly under the radar. For many, there are no noticeable symptoms even though deterioration has begun. At this stage, doctors won’t be able to identify any sign of Alzheimer’s disease based on an interview with a patient.
In other words, at this stage, people appear to have normal cognition even though the disease has started to take its toll on the brain.
Stage 2: Very Mild Cognitive Impairment
Stage 2 is when many people start to notice symptoms. Affected individuals may have memory lapses or feel a bit forgetful. Similar to the previous stage, healthcare providers, friends, and family won’t be able to detect any significant symptoms.
Another name for this stage is the prodromal stage. The term prodromal describes a period between initial symptoms and serious disease progression. During this phase, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish memory loss from the forgetfulness associated with age.
Stage 3: Mild Cognitive Decline
Also called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), symptoms begin to become noticeable to other people at this stage. A detailed interview by a doctor may reveal certain concentration problems or memory loss issues, such as:
- Difficulty remembering names of individuals they were recently introduced to
- Forgetting details or material that has been recently read
- Getting lost more frequently
- Losing track of important or valuable objects
- Problems planning or organizing
- Struggling with tasks in work, home, and social settings
- Trouble articulating the correct word or name of items
Stage 4: Moderate Dementia
Stage 4 is similar to stage 3, but symptoms progressively worsen. As short-term memory becomes compromised, an individual may go from forgetting details to forgetting aspects of their own personal history.
Even though symptoms in this stage are moderate, loved ones may still write signs off as a typical part of aging. However, trained medical professionals should be able to identify worsening symptoms, such as:
- Changes in mood or social interaction
- Forgetting recent events
- Trouble performing complex tasks, like paying bills or planning a dinner party
Stage 5: Moderately Severe Cognitive Decline
Although this stage may sound similar to stage 4, there are significant differences. At this stage, an individual may need assistance with day-to-day activities. For example, individuals may be unable to:
- Recall what day it is or what location they are at
- Recount personal details, such as where they graduated from college or what year their child was born
- Remember their own phone number or address
During this stage, significant details begin to be lost, which can be confusing, challenging, and even cause a rift between loved ones. It can be especially confusing for the individual with the disease, since they feel details slipping away but may not comprehend why it is happening.
Working closely with an Alzheimer’s specialist and support groups can help remind loved ones that it’s often the “disease speaking” instead of the person they know and love. A licensed mental health counselor can also help caregivers and loved ones progress through the grieving process as symptoms worsen.
Stage 6: Severe Cognitive Decline
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease at this stage can be particularly distressing, for both the individual and their caregivers. For example, individuals may be able to recognize family members but may not be able to remember their names. Troubling mood and personality changes are also common.
During this stage, memory loss begins to affect daily activities severely. Individuals may lose awareness of both recent experiences and current surroundings. They’ll likely be able to remember their own name but have increasing difficulty remembering details of their personal history.
Most notably, individuals with stage 6 Alzheimer’s disease will need near-constant supervision to accomplish daily activities, and admittance into an Alzheimer’s care facility may be appropriate.
Caregivers will need to assist individuals with seemingly basic activities, such as:
- Walking short distances without wandering or becoming lost
Stage 7: Very Severe Cognitive Decline
This is the final stage of Alzheimer’s disease and lasts until death occurs. As implied by the name, this stage is considered severe and individuals require intense assistance. The disease affects nearly every aspect of life, from communication to movement.
While a loved one may still be able to utter words or phrases, they lose the ability to converse. They also will struggle to respond appropriately to environmental cues.
For example, a caregiver will be solely responsible for feeding and toileting the individual at appropriate times. The individual will be unable to respond to their hunger, sleep, or other body cues. As with the previous stage, since this period of time can take a considerable toll on caregivers or loved ones, admitting the individual to a care facility may make sense for you or your family.
This stage is often recognized by progressive muscle rigidness and abnormal reflexes. Individuals at this stage may lose the following abilities:
- Sitting or holding head up without support
In Summary on Alzheimer’s Disease Stages and Symptoms
Although scientists are still discovering the final details of Alzheimer’s disease, experts agree that proper support is crucial. Understanding the disease’s signs, symptoms, and stages as it progresses can help you better make sense of treatment options as a loved one loses their memory.
Whether you’re in a mild, moderate, or severe stage, it’s important to remember that Alzheimer’s resources and experts can make each day a bit easier and more manageable.
Alzheimer’s Association. The Seven Stages of Alzheimer’s. Act.alz.org. Accessed June 2023.