Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes a progressive decline in memory and cognitive function. The cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown, but it is believed to be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are medications and treatments that can improve the quality of life and slow the progression of the disease. The disease is characterized by the presence of neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques in the brain.
There are 7 stages of Alzheimer’s disease, which are distinguished by increasing levels of cognitive impairment. If your loved one has been diagnosed, it is important to understand the various stages and the symptoms that you can expect.
Let’s take a closer look at the stages of Alzheimer’s.
Stage 1: No Dementia
Mentally healthy persons are those who are free of objective or subjective symptoms of cognitive and functional decline, as well as of associated behavioral and mood changes, at any age. These people are categorized at stage 1, or normal. This is the majority of the population without any memory issues.
Stage 2: Basic Memory Loss and Forgetfulness
Many people over the age of 65 find that they have difficulty with cognitive function or memory recall. As a part of the normal aging process, memory loss and forgetfulness is common. Very early stages of Alzheimer’s can look very similar to normal age-related forgetfulness.
Your loved one’s memory may not be as sharp as it once was, and they may forget things like people’s names or where they left their keys, but they can still live relatively normal lives. However, these lapses in memory will become more frequent over time. You will probably notice this before your loved one does, and getting them treatment sooner can help slow the progression.
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Stage 3: Noticeable Memory Difficulties
This stage of Alzheimer’s can be difficult for many as they begin to notice changes in their abilities and cognitive function. It’s common for people to be diagnosed during this stage as disruptions to their daily routine become more evident. Memory difficulties, such as forgetting recently read material or trouble remembering plans, as well as difficulties retrieving names or words, are common challenges in this stage.
Social settings and work may also become more challenging. Your loved one may experience more anxiety, and some may even deny that anything is wrong, but these feelings are normal. The best way to manage symptoms is to talk to your loved one’s physician about treatment options, including medications and care planning.
Stage 4: Moderate Cognitive Decline
During this stage of Alzheimer’s, the damage to the brain often affects other aspects of cognition outside of memory, including difficulties with language, organization, and calculations. This can make it more challenging for your loved one to perform daily tasks. This stage can last for several years, and your loved one will experience major difficulties with memory.
They may still remember significant details about their life, such as who they are married to or what state they live in. However, their memory of past events will usually be significantly better than their memory of day-to-day information, such as what they saw on the news or a conversation from earlier in the day.
Other challenges during this stage may include confusion about what day it is, increased risk of wandering off or getting lost, changes in sleep patterns, and difficulty choosing appropriate clothing for the weather or the occasion. During this stage, situations that require a lot of thinking, such as being at a social gathering, can be very frustrating, and it’s common to feel moody or withdrawn.
Because of the damage to the brain cells, your loved one may also experience other personality changes, such as feeling suspicious of others, having less interest in things, or feeling depressed.
Stage 5: Moderately Severe Cognitive Decline
At this point, your loved one will probably need constant care. In these later stages of the disease, many activities and daily tasks can become difficult. Your loved one will most likely have issues with remembering people who are important to them, such as close family and friends. They may have difficulty learning new things, and even basic tasks like getting dressed may be too much for them. Emotional changes are also commonplace during this stage, which can also include hallucinations and delusions.
Stage 6: Severe Cognitive Decline
This stage of Alzheimer’s is characterized by more significant symptoms that make it difficult for the sufferer to manage their own care. They will be more dependent on others at this stage. During this stage, your loved one may still use words and phrases but may have difficulty communicating specific thoughts, such as where they are experiencing pain.
Significant personality changes, including increased anxiety, hallucinations and delusions, and paranoia, may continue to occur. Your loved one may become more frustrated with you as their independence decreases. You can discuss medicines and behavioral strategies that may help with care with healthcare professionals.
Stage 7: Very Severe Cognitive Decline
Alzheimer’s disease results in the destruction of brain cells, which leads to a severe decline in mental and physical function. As the disease progresses, your loved one will need more and more assistance with everyday tasks. At this stage, round-the-clock is usually required as your loved one might need help walking, sitting, and even swallowing.
Additionally, their reduced mobility can make them more susceptible to infections, such as pneumonia. To help reduce the risk of infection, it is important to keep their teeth and mouth clean, treat cuts and scrapes promptly, and make sure they receive a flu shot each year.
Overall, the stages of Alzheimer’s disease are important to understand in order to provide the best care possible for those suffering from the illness. The stages help to paint a picture of the progression of the disease, which can help caregivers and loved ones to be better prepared for the changes that will occur.
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