Age Matters Clinic


Toronto Geriatric Assessment and Memory Clinic

The Stages of Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer Brain

Alzheimer's affects millions of people around the world. This brain disease progresses slowly, with the severity of the symptoms increasing gradually over time. Whether you have the disease, know someone who does, or are at-risk to develop it in the future, it is important to understand the different stages of Alzheimer's disease. Keep reading to find out what they are.

What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Before discussing the various stages of Alzheimer's disease, a solid understanding of the disease is necessary. So, let's start by answering the most important question: what is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a serious type of degenerative brain disease. This disease impacts the way that patients are able to process, retain, and understand information. Alzheimer's most commonly affects men and women over the age of 65, however early onset Alzheimer's disease can also exist, affecting men and women between the ages of 30-50.

Alzheimer's is an especially painful disease as it is a progressive brain disease. This means that the symptoms worsen over time, so as the disease continues to progress, the patient will become unable to perform basic everyday tasks and will struggle with memory, along with many other life-altering symptoms. Why is Alzheimer's disease such a serious concern? It is estimated to affect nearly 36 million people worldwide - and there is no cure for the disease.

Stage One: No Symptoms

Alzheimer's disease can typically be broken up into five different stages of development. The first stage of Alzheimer's disease is stage one: no symptoms. The very first stage of Alzheimer's disease will likely go completely undetected...even if a medical professional checks them out. In fact, it isn't until the disease progresses further that a patient may begin to notice changes in memory or behaviour.

This stage, known as pre-clinical Alzheimer's disease can exist for years and years before progressing to the next stage of Alzheimer's disease. The first stage of Alzheimer's disease is entirely silent and there won't be any indication whatsoever that the disease is present.

Stage Two: The Earliest Symptoms

The next stage of the disease, stage two, is when Alzheimer's disease starts to become noticeable. It may be small changes or memory lapses at first - like forgetting about an appointment or leaving the shopping list at home. These changes in memory and thinking may seem insignificant at first. However, these issues tend to become more frequent as this stage of the disease progresses.

The second stage of Alzheimer's disease is known as mild cognitive impairment. Patients at this stage of the disease may begin to have difficulty remembering information. This can include appointments, important events or dates, and even recent conversations. Decision-making may also become more difficult during this stage of the disease. Someone may also notice that you forget where you normally put things, like your car keys or the mail. Typically people at this stage of the disease will begin to notice changes in their memory or thinking ability and may choose to seek diagnosis from a medical professional.

Stage Three: Mild Dementia

Stage three of Alzheimer's disease is known as mild dementia. Memory and thinking ability will have worsened from the last stage, but patients are still able to function at a fairly normal level. At this stage, symptoms become more obvious, so the patient, family members or close friends may be more aware of the changes that are happening. If medical care hasn't already been sought out, it will likely be done during this stage.

Some of the symptoms typical to this stage include difficulty problem solving (making important financial decisions, event planning, etc.), increased memory loss (difficulty remembering newly acquired information and asking the same questions over and over again), constantly misplacing or losing items or belongings around the home, difficulty thinking of the right word to use or the meaning of certain words, as well as increased problems performing simple every day tasks either at home, in social situations, or in the workplace. At this stage of Alzheimer's disease, it is important that proper medical care takes place in order to help slow down the progression of the disease and learn necessary coping mechanisms.

Stage Four: Moderate Dementia

By the fourth stage of Alzheimer's disease, known as the moderate dementia stage, patients will begin to rely on others more heavily. It is during this stage that they need help from family members or caretakers. This help will be necessary in order for them to properly take care of themselves and perform regular daily tasks. It is essential that someone who has progressed to this stage of Alzheimer's disease have a strong support system in order to live comfortably. This stage of the disease can often feel like the longest, and is typically the most difficult. Why? The patient is still aware of their condition but they are beginning to deal with a number of increasingly severe symptoms.

This stage of the disease has a number of serious symptoms, including increased memory loss (forgetting information about their past, people they used to know, may repeat stories many times), an increased need for help to complete daily activities, confusion about where they are, what day it is, and their general surroundings, as well as changes in behaviour (suspicious behaviours, increased irritability, angry outbursts, or even aggressive behaviour.)

Stage Five: Severe Dementia

The final stage of Alzheimer's disease is the most difficult for family members and caregivers. This stage, known as severe or advanced Alzheimer's disease, is where the patient changes considerably. They may now become unable to communicate in a logical manner, will need full-time care, become unable to walk or eat without the assistance of others, have increased difficult sleeping, or be unable to control motor movements. During the last stage of this progressive brain disease, patients become entirely reliant on others. This can be incredibly difficult for family members to handle, particularly if patients lose the ability to eat, smile, or even hold their heads up.

Find Out More

It is clear that Alzheimer's disease is incredibly serious and heartbreaking to witness. Since the disease is progressive, it means that patients slowly lose their memories, personalities, and independence. This can be painful for both patients and loved ones. If you need more information about the disease, care options, or counselling, reach out. There are many experienced professionals who know how to help families dealing with the various stages of Alzheimer's and memory loss.