Alzheimer’s disease is a disease that affects the brain and thinking that gets worse over time. There are many stages of Alzheimers disease, and it causes a slow loss of memory and changes in how people act, think, and speak.

Most people who have dementia have Alzheimer’s disease. It affects more than 6 million people in the United States. Each person with Alzheimer’s has a different experience with the disease, but its typical progression can be broken down into stages. However, figuring out what stage someone is in, is less important than making sure their needs are met and they have a good quality of life. In this blog, we will review the 5 stages of Alzheimer’s disease and what’s important in the care one should receive.

The 5 Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

When you look at Alzheimer’s disease in stages, you can get a better idea of the changes a person might go through after being diagnosed. Experts have come up with many different “staging” systems over the years, however, the stages can only be used as a rough guide. Below are the five stages of Alzheimer’s:

  • Preclinical Alzheimer’s disease – During this stage, the person won’t have any obvious symptoms, but imaging technology can find deposits of a protein called amyloid-beta. This protein sticks together and forms plaques in people with Alzheimer’s disease. These protein clumps may stop cells from talking to each other and turn on immune system cells that cause inflammation and kill sick cells
  • Mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s disease – When a person has MCI, they may notice small changes in how they think and remember things. They might feel like they have “brain fog” and have trouble remembering recent things. These problems aren’t bad enough to get in the way of daily life or normal activities, but people close to you may start to notice changes. People often forget things more as they get older, or it takes them longer to think of a word or remember a name. But if you have a lot of trouble with these tasks, it could be a sign of MCI. Some common symptoms of MCI include:
      • Forgetting appointments, conversations, or recent events more often than they used to
      • Having trouble making decisions
      • Having trouble doing tasks that require more than one step
      • Getting confused about time, places, and people
      • Not taking care of oneself, like washing and eating
      • Engaging in risky behavior
      • Having depression
      • Having a sense of “brain fog
  • Mild dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease – Alzheimer’s disease is usually diagnosed when a person is in the mild dementia stage. If people describe Alzheimer’s disease in three stages—early, mild, and late—this would be the early stage. Memory and thinking problems may become more obvious to friends and family, and they may also start to get in the way of daily life. Symptoms of mild dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease include:
  • Having trouble remembering what they’ve just learned
  • Asking the same question over and over
  • Having trouble solving problems and finishing tasks
  • Showing less motivation to complete tasks
  • Experiencing bad decision-making
  • Becoming shy or irritable or angry for no reason
  • Having trouble finding the right words to describe an object or idea
  • Losing or misplacing things
  • Moderate dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease – When Alzheimer’s disease causes moderate dementia, a person becomes more confused and forgetful. They might need help doing everyday things and taking care of themselves. This is the longest stage, and it usually takes between 2 and 4 years. Symptoms of moderate dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease include:
  • Even in familiar places, they forget where they are and how to get there
  • They wander around looking for places that feel more familiar
  • Forgetting the day of the week or the season
  • Confusing family members and close friends, or mistaking strangers for family
  • Forgetting personal information like their address
  • Repeating favorite memories or making up stories to fill memory gaps
  • Needing help deciding what to wear for the weather or season
  • Needing help with bathing and grooming
  • Sometimes lose control of their bladder or bowel
  • Becoming overly suspicious of friends and family
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
  • Becoming restless or agitated
  • Having physical outbursts that may be aggressive
  • Severe dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease – During this stage, both physical and mental abilities keep getting worse. In the late stages of Alzheimer’s, if a person has severe dementia, they might:
    • Have difficulty communicating and using language coherently
    • Think they are at an earlier stage of life
    • Be unable to recognize familiar faces, possibly due to remembering the person’s appearance at a younger age
    • Need assistance with personal care, eating, dressing, and using the bathroom
    • Have a higher risk of falls
    • Spend more time in bed or on a chair
    • Have difficulty swallowing
    • Lose bowel and bladder control
    • Experience delusions and hallucinations
    • Show aggression, possibly toward caregivers, due to fear or confusion

People with severe dementia from late-stage Alzheimer’s often die from pneumonia because they lose their ability to swallow. This means that food and drinks can get into the lungs and cause an infection.

Hospice Care and Alzheimer’s Disease

People with Alzheimer’s disease can still live well for a while. But at some point, the focus of medical care must be on keeping the person comfortable. Before this time comes, it’s important to get ready and make a plan. Also, you should know what services you can use through hospice when you need them. Hospice care focuses on making the end of life as comfortable and dignified as possible. It includes care and support services that can be very helpful to people with Alzheimer’s and their families who are in the last stages of the disease.

When a loved one is dying, families who choose hospice care are usually happier with the care their loved one is getting. You can be ready for many common problems with the help of these services. People in hospice, for example, have a better handle on their pain. They are also more likely to die in the place they chose, which can help give a sense of peace to their families. 

Are you or a loved one struggling with Alzheimer’s and want more information on the stages and care options? Check out our contact page here, or give us a call at (800)563-8680.