Referred to as “the long good-bye,” Alzheimer’s is one of the most feared diseases, and rightly so. It cruelly robs its victims of their mind and memories. It’s grossly misunderstood, costing millions of dollars each year in medical costs, lost wages and long-term care costs. What are the 7 stages of Alzheimer’s Disease?
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease, and the most common type of dementia and premature senility. This progressive mental deterioration, occurs in middle or old age, and results in degeneration of the brain. Early onset Alzheimer’s, typically presents in those under 65 years of age, with symptoms manifesting as early as age 30 or 40. Fortunately, this group comprises only about 5 percent of those suffering from AD.
In the United States, alone, Alzheimers accounts for up to 60-80 percent of all cases of dementia, and is characterized by the accumulation of two dysfunctional proteins, beta amyloid plaque and tau, in the brains of those afflicted. However, it is possible to have amyloid plaque with no symptoms of cognitive decline, so its presence, alone, is not diagnostic of AD.
To receive an official diagnosis of Alzheimers, one must be both cognitively and behaviorally impaired, with a clear distinction in terms of previous and recent performance.
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Alzheimer’s Disease Signs And Symptoms
In the beginning stages of AD, symptoms are mild, but as the patient progresses through the 7 stages and the deterioration worsens, they become more severe and impairing:
- Impaired memory and cognition
- Difficulty completing daily tasks that used to be habitual. This could be at home or in the work environment.
- Confusion regarding time and place
- Decreased concentration
- A decline in problem-solving abilities and planning skills
- Problems with word-retrieval and limited vocabulary
- Poor judgment when making decisions
- Misplacement of items
- Personality and behavior changes
- Depression and other mood irregularities
- Getting lost in familiar surroundings
Diagnosis Of AD
Diagnosis of AD involves of variety of methods, including clinical assessments, cognitive and memory evaluations, physical exams, laboratory tests and brain imaging scans. These tests are usually performed by a neurologist or a doctor specializing in geriatrics.
Clinical assessments and physical exams provide extremely helpful information regarding the cognitive and behavioral abilities of the patient. Talking with family members to get a clear picture of how the decline in these abilities has progressed, is also vital.
Since AD is a type of dementia resulting in the progressive degeneration of brain cells, imaging scans can be used to help make a diagnosis, but in themselves, aren’t conclusive, due to an overlap in what is considered abnormal brain function, and normal brain changes in the aging population.
Brain imaging can help rule out causes that could potentially affect brain function, such as brain tumors, strokes, Parkinson’s Disease, and mood disorders. Imaging also allows for a baseline of degeneration to be established. Tests include MRIs, CT scans, and PET scans, which are useful in detecting inhibited glucose metabolism in the brain indicative of Alzheimer’s.
AD, is partly, a diagnosis of exclusion. Thyroid disorders and vitamin and mineral deficiencies, particularly a B12 deficiency, are important to rule out an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, as they can cause similar symptoms.
The 7 Stages Of Alzheimer’s Disease Progression
There are 7 stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Initially the symptoms are mild, but as the deterioration continues its descent, the symptoms become more severe. AD is a cruel and debilitating disease that eventually robs those afflicted of their ability to reason, remember, and recognize those they love and associate with. It represents loss of autonomy, independence, and ultimately, loss of self. The stages are as follows:
1. No impairment: patients in this stage behave normally, and symptoms are not apparent or are nonexistent. Imaging tests, however, clearly reveal the presence of disease.
2. Very mild decline: in this stage, subtle changes begin to appear, but the person is still able to complete daily tasks and work without interference.
3. Mild decline: Irregular thinking patterns start to emerge in this stage, characterized by forgetfulness, repeating questions, inability to make plans, and a decrease in organizational skills.
4. Moderate decline: the decline is more pronounced in this fourth stage of disease progression. This is the stage where a diagnosis becomes clear, and is referred to as mild or early-stage AD. Every day tasks, that were previously habitual, become more difficult to accomplish.
5. Moderately severe decline: a sharp decline is seen in this stage of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Daily tasks cannot be accomplished without assistance. The symptoms become, markedly, more severe.
6. Severe decline: the disease is severe at this stage with patients needing help with personal tasks, such as visiting the bathroom, and getting dressed.
7. Very severe decline (clinical dementia): severe symptoms appear in this final stage, including a lack of environmental awareness and a further decline in language. Physical symptoms, such as a decrease in muscle control, are also part of the picture.
Check out this informative, candid, and well-written book: “What If It’s Not Alzheimer’s?: A Caregiver’s Guide To Dementia”
Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention
I had a personal experience this week with a woman suffering from AD. She had been very physically and mentally active her entire life, exercising regularly, and working as a travel agent. She was in the sixth stage of AD, was in diapers, but was still able to walk, and feed herself, with her husband’s supervision. He stated that his wife first noticed symptoms of forgetfulness when she was 65. She would cry herself to sleep every night because she knew something was desperately wrong. Can you imagine the terror?
Interestingly, due to her peak physical condition, her decline had been much slower than it, otherwise, would have been. Unfortunately, it was not enough to prevent the disease, but it did mitigate her decline. What a huge plug for all of us to take better care of ourselves, throughout our lifespans, both physically and mentally. Never will your efforts, in this regard, be a waste of time, even if you are genetically at risk to develop AD.
Diabetes, obesity, and hypertension are all risk factors for AD. Engaging in healthy lifestyle strategies like controlling your blood sugar, exercising consistently, and managing your stress, all go a long way in protecting your brain from age-related dementia and AD.
[Read More: 5 Ways To Make Self Care A Priority]
Alzheimers is a frightening and heartbreaking disease. It destroys the brain function and behavioral ability of those from which it steals. The 7 stages of this destructive disease begin with no obvious signs, culminating in death, the final stage. This disease is so very hard on the caretakers of those suffering with AD, often wrecking their health as well, especially those who aren’t financially able to pay for assistance.
It’s a heartbreaking situation, Alzheimer’s can go on for years – hence, the name, “the long good-bye.” Please carefully attend to your health, you never know if and when you’ll wind up as a loved one’s caregiver. It will take all the strength you have to give.
What is your experience with Alzheimer’s Disease? Let me know in the comments:)