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The typical Alzheimer’s case progresses gradually, with steady deterioration over as many as 20 years, although some people have a more rapid course. This progression has been categorized into stages of Alzheimer’s for diagnostic purposes, although, in reality, an individual with AD may have some overlap of features common to the various stages.
There is some evidence that women progress to cognitive loss twice as quickly as men, but new research suggests that this may be because women are diagnosed later than men. Genetic or environmental causes may hasten the speed of decline in women—but these factors need to be studied further to prove any cause and effect. There may be other significant risk factors affecting women only, such as their reproductive history.
The Four Stages of Alzheimer’s
The stages of Alzheimer’s disease are as follows:
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
MCI is one step beyond normal age-related memory loss, but it isn’t yet AD, and it may never progress.
Someone with MCI has a lot of trouble remembering simple things—for example, a familiar telephone number, or where he or she put the car keys. The person will have more trouble remembering names or words, acquiring and retaining other information, and performing complex tasks. These cognitive lapses may become increasingly noticeable to others.
Early-Stage (Mild) Alzheimer’s
Someone with mild Alzheimer’s can still be independent but begins to notice progressive difficulty in performing multi-step tasks, such as cooking a meal or driving to their neighborhood grocery store and doing their shopping.
Family and friends might observe signs like forgetting familiar words, trouble recalling current events, or remembering dates. The person can have trouble following conversations, particularly in groups, become increasingly withdrawn in social situations, and be less interested in going out or engaging in other activities.
Depression and anxiety also are common, and these emotional changes can put a strain on relationships with family and friends. This often is the stage where someone affected will have to stop working if they are still employed.
Mid-Stage (Moderate) Alzheimer’s
This is the longest stage of AD, and it is the time when it becomes impractical for the patient to live alone, even with help from family and friends.
The person will be unable to remember important information, such as his or her address or phone number. He or she will need help picking out clothes and remembering the date and time. Behavior changes become much more pronounced in this stage, increasing irritability, anger, anxiety and depression also are common. The person may become confused or delusional at times and express irrational fears—for example, that someone is stealing from him or her, often an explanation for items that are lost. Changes in sleep patterns may occur, with increasing daytime sleepiness and nighttime restlessness.
Late-Stage (Severe) Alzheimer’s
Cognitive ability becomes seriously compromised at this stage, as the person becomes unable to communicate or interact with his or her environment, and loses the ability to recognize family and friends. He or she will need help performing even the simplest tasks, such as using the bathroom or eating. Most individuals also experience trouble with bowel and bladder control.
Although medications may help moderate symptoms, the disease is still incurable—and irreversible. However, treatments and support systems can significantly improve quality of life for people with AD and their families.
For more information about Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis and treatment, purchase Combating Memory Loss at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.