The stages of Alzheimer’s disease

There are four stages associated with Alzheimer’s disease, which are based on the symptoms. The progress of these stages varies for each individual. People with Alzheimer’s usually live from 2 to 20 years after diagnosis and 12 years on average.

1. Early stage

During the early stage, friends and relatives may notice the person experiencing difficulties in daily life, but he/she may not necessary be aware of these problems. For example, difficulty learning new things, forgetfulness, problems with concentration, fatigue, depression and stress are all symptoms of the early stage of Alzheimer’s.

2. Mild stage

During this stage, the symptoms will worsen, the ability to learn new things will decline significantly and the person will become more forgetful. He/she will also be aware of the memory problems and difficulties in daily life. The person may become withdrawn and stop doing the things that he/she previously enjoyed doing. Finding and remembering the right words will become more difficult. The person will be unable to take care of financial matters as before and may avoid and have difficulty taking care of these matters. He/she may also suffer from delusions, distress and irritability.

3. Moderate stage

During this stage the person with Alzheimer’s will be unable to carry out daily activities alone. He/she may lose things, be unable to prepare food, or get dressed and wash properly. The person may get lost in familiar surroundings and no longer be aware of the difficulties faced in daily life. The person may experience sleep-wake cycle disorders, delusions and hallucinations. Past and present will become blurred. However, social abilities are usually retained quite well.

4. Severe stage

When a person enters the severe stage, coping with daily life becomes even more difficult and symptoms worsen. During the severe stage the person will need to live in a residential care home or receive constant care. Frequently the person might not recognise friends and relations and memory may function only occasionally. The person will often relive his/her childhood. The ability to speak and move will deteriorate and movements will become more rigid. Behavioural problems, such as restlessness, aggressiveness and apathy, will increase.

Merja Hallikainen, Clinical Research Director from the University of Eastern Finland’s Brain Research Unit, was interviewed for this article.