How Alzheimer’s Disease Progresses

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disease that impacts memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s tend to gradually develop over years, and worsen over time. The disease generally progresses in three main stages: early, middle and late. Alzheimer’s disease affects each individual differently, and the symptoms and stages can look different for everyone. However, these are some common signs to watch for during each of the stages.

Early Stage

An individual who is in the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease may still be able to function independently. However, they may begin to experience memory lapses. Memory lapses are typically the main early symptom of Alzheimer’s. Some common early memory issues can include forgetting recent conversations, misplacing objects, having a difficult time coming up with the right word, forgetting the names of objects or places, and having trouble remembering names after being introduced to new people. 

In addition, someone in the early stage of Alzheimer’s may begin to have issues with planning, judgment and organization. For example, managing money can become difficult for them. They may show poor judgment and find it more challenging to make decisions.

Someone who is experiencing memory loss or other potential signs of Alzheimer’s may find it difficult to recognize there is a problem. The symptoms might be more apparent to friends and family members. Those who have symptoms of Alzheimer’s should see a medical professional as soon as possible. Early diagnosis can allow the individual to get the help they need sooner.

Middle Stage

Often, Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed in the middle stage as the symptoms become more noticeable. Those at this stage can experience more prevalent dementia symptoms such as confusing words, getting frustrated and acting unexpectedly. Nerve cell damage can also make it hard for them to express thoughts and perform regular tasks without help. Those at this stage will tend to need additional care as the disease progresses. The middle stage is also the longest stage of Alzheimer’s and typically lasts many years. 

Those in the middle stage of Alzheimer’s will experience worsening issues with memory. They can become forgetful of personal history and events. The individual might find it more difficult to remember the names of people they know, or have trouble recognizing their family and friends. They may also be unable to recall information about themselves, such as their address, phone number, or the college they attended. The individual may also experience confusion when it comes to place and time.

Personality and behavioral changes can also occur with Alzheimer’s disease. Someone with Alzheimer’s may become confused, suspicious, withdrawn, depressed, or anxious. They may also perform repetitive behaviors and have an increased tendency to wander or get lost. Other changes can include wearing too many or too few clothes, engaging in unsafe behaviors and using foul language. These may be signs of Alzheimer’s especially if the person did not behave this way before.

Other middle stage Alzheimer’s symptoms can include changes in sleep pattern, trouble controlling bowels or bladder, experiencing delusions or hallucinations and difficulty with spatial tasks. In this stage, the person with Alzheimer’s can likely still participate in regular activities with assistance. Caregivers should find out what the individual can still do or find ways to make tasks more simple for them. As the disease progresses, caregivers may need to seek additional assistance from outside help.

Late Stage:

During the late stage of Alzheimer’s, symptoms become severe. Communication and ability to respond to their environment can become difficult for those who are in this stage of Alzheimer’s. Eventually, they will be unable to control movement. Significant changes in personality can occur as well. The individual will need to have extensive care and help. 

Those who are in this stage of Alzheimer’s can lose many physical abilities. This can include walking, eating and sitting. Communication also becomes harder for the individual. In this stage, someone with Alzheimer’s disease may be able to speak some words, but they may not be able to have a conversation with others. In addition, those who are in the late stage of Alzheimer’s tend to lose awareness of their surroundings and are unaware of recent experiences. They also become more vulnerable to getting infections, such as pneumonia.

Due to the increase of symptoms, the individual with Alzheimer’s will require extensive care during this stage. They will typically need around-the-clock assistance and help with daily personal care. Although the person with Alzheimer’s might not be able to engage as much as they used to, they can still benefit from interaction, such as listening to relaxing music. Caregivers might want to use support services, like hospice care, during this stage of Alzheimer’s.


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