Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that affects a person’s memory, can change their behaviors and personality and impair their ability to think clearly. While it can happen at any age, it’s more common in seniors. If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, the first thing to do is ensure that you have a clear understanding of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s that are associated with each stage of the condition. Having a good idea about what to expect with the stages of Alzheimer’s plays a major role in how prepared you are to support your loved one.
According to the National Institutes of Health, there are seven basic stages of Alzheimer’s that caregivers should be aware of. Each stage of Alzheimer’s has specific symptoms that you and your loved one’s doctor should keep an eye on. The stages are broken down into the following categories and symptoms.
- Stage 1: No impairment
- Stage 2: Very mild impairment
- Stage 3: Mild cognitive impairment
- Stage 4: Moderate cognitive impairment
- Stage 5: Moderately severe decline
- Stage 6: Severe decline
- Stage 7: Severe Alzheimer’s disease
By knowing the timeline of the seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease, both you and your loved one can better prepare for the future and make wiser decisions regarding their lifestyle. You’ll be better equipped to determine when to seek medical advice and when to transition your loved one out of an independent living situation and into a safer assisted living or memory care facility.
Alzheimer’s takes time to progress. That’s why the medical community now defines the disease by stages rather than the three broader categories they used to follow. Stages 1-4 are the beginning stages. Stages 5-6 are the middle stages. And stage 7 is the final or most advanced stage.
Beginning Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
During the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms your loved one may experience will be minimal if they’re noticeable at all. In fact, most individuals behave entirely normally and exhibit absolutely no symptoms of the disease. This phase is divided into four stages.
Stage 1: No Impairment
During the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, it may look like absolutely nothing is wrong. Your loved one will have completely normal levels of brain function and won’t exhibit signs of impairment commonly associated with more advanced Alzheimer’s. This stage can happen at any age and isn’t dependent on your loved one growing older. Further, since there are no apparent symptoms, it’s entirely normal for your loved one not to receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease at this stage.
Stage 2: Very Mild Impairment
According to HelpGuide.org, one of the most common signs of the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s or memory loss is the misplacement of objects or noticing your loved one is leaving them in unusual spots. This may seem like age-related forgetfulness and is easy to miss, especially as your loved one grows older. At this point in the 7 stages, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s are still so minor that even doctors may not detect the change. Learn more about what to do when your loved one receives a diagnosis.
Stage 3: Mild Cognitive Impairment
In the third stage, your loved one may start to exhibit clearer signs of cognitive impairment. This can include increased forgetfulness and the tendency to misplace items more often than in Stage 2. During this stage, it’s normal for your loved one to develop an increased dependency on their family members or caregivers as day-to-day tasks will become harder for them to remember and manage on their own. As the third stage progresses further, your loved one may start to have trouble remembering words and names.
He or she may begin avoiding interactions with you or friends to prevent embarrassment as well. This is why it’s important that you make an effort to notice these symptoms so you can start providing support for your loved one as soon as the condition begins to develop. This stage in the Alzheimer’s timeline typically lasts between four and seven years. Throughout the stage, you’ll want to seek medical advice about whether your loved one can continue with their occupation and if it’s time to start helping with household tasks more often so your loved one won’t have to manage them on their own.
Stage 4: Moderate Cognitive Impairment
If your loved one is confused more frequently and starts having trouble recalling both long- and short-term memories, he or she may have entered into the fourth stage of Alzheimer’s. Difficulty recognizing familiar faces, such as family and friends, is one of the most obvious signs that he or she is nearing the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Beyond having difficulty with recalling long- and short-term memories, your loved one may start to have trouble driving, remembering major recent events, and ordering food at restaurants. They can also start to deny their symptoms and withdraw into themselves. This may result in a lack of participation in social events or a new tendency to become emotionally unresponsive. These symptoms are more visible, and your loved one will be more likely to get diagnosed at this stage if they haven’t received a diagnosis previously. If you’ve noticed these same symptoms with your loved one, consult with their doctor immediately.
Middle Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Unfortunately, no matter how mild the symptoms your loved one exhibits during the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease, you can expect one thing: The symptoms will progress over time. Once your loved one starts to reach the middle stages, the symptoms will be much more noticeable. There are two stages within this phase that you need to know about.
Stage 5: Moderately Severe Decline
According to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, your loved one may suddenly avoid new situations or meeting new people in this stage of Alzheimer’s progression. Since he or she is more frequently struggling with confusion, anything that isn’t familiar starts to become frustrating. Wandering and the inability to perform daily tasks like getting dressed in the morning are also results of confusion. If you live too far away or are unable to provide full support for your loved one for any reason, it may be time to talk to your close family about finding an Alzheimer’s care community where he or she will get 24/7 support.
At this stage, it’s normal for those with Alzheimer’s disease to experience feelings of anger and suspicion in addition to confusion. This makes your loved one particularly vulnerable to predatory strangers, which is why moving them to an assisted living community with a dedicated memory care division is essential. At Elmcroft, our memory care facility is staffed with caring and experienced specialists that will help your loved one with all of their daily care needs, no matter what stage of Alzheimer’s they’re in. Elmcroft communities are secure, and every resident receives individual care and attention based on their needs and abilities.
Stage 6: Severe Decline
During the sixth stage, your loved one’s symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease will be much more pronounced and more serious. You may start to notice that your loved one is unable to wash properly as they can’t control the temperature of the water well. They may struggle to dress or get ready for bed each day, get disoriented often and may express feelings of anger and confusion as a result. By this part of the middle stage of Alzheimer’s, your loved one may also be unable to identify even close family members and will likely be completely reliant on others for their care. Typically, this stage lasts for about two to three years.
Final Stage of Alzheimer’s Disease
The final stage of Alzheimer’s disease is the most severe and disruptive to your loved one’s lifestyle, personality, and memory recall abilities.
Stage 7: Severe Alzheimer’s Disease
The NIH explained that as an Alzheimer’s patient enters into the final stage of Alzheimer’s, he or she may lose the ability to communicate. An increased amount of sleep each day, weight loss and significant loss of appetite are other common symptoms. It’ll also become challenging for your loved one to control motor skills, causing slurred speech. The patient may also develop joint deformities at this stage. At this point, he or she is completely dependent on others and requires full-time memory care.
Moving your loved one to a memory care community will help them better manage this stage of Alzheimer’s. The professional associates in the community will provide everything they need to live a comfortable life despite having advanced Alzheimer’s disease. At Elmcroft, our memory care program will give your loved one a safe and secure place to call home. With the help of their caregivers, your loved one will have the freedom they need to participate in activities in a safe environment.
You won’t have to worry about monitoring their medications or making sure they’re eating enough nutritious foods. Instead, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your loved one is being cared for well and comforted in the knowledge that their needs are being met every day. Learn more about our memory care program and schedule a tour today.