Alzheimer’s disease is progressive. Someone begins with no symptoms and then gradually moves through seven stages of Alzheimer’s.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. According to the Mayo Clinic, Alzheimer’s disease is distinguished by cognitive changes like memory loss, impaired judgement, and the loss of language.
Someone with Alzheimer’s experiences gradual and progressive brain changes that come to interfere in every aspect of his or her life. Among the areas of impairment are the memory, thinking and reasoning, decision-making, planning and performing tasks, general behavior, and personality.
How Does Alzheimer’s Progress?
Alzheimer’s moves from very mild to extremely severe in seven distinct stages. Developed by Dr. Barry Reisberg in the early 1980s, the seven stage Global Deterioration Scale helps people understand what’s happening.
The stages of this illness are predictable, each with symptoms and behaviors that worsen and cause methodical decline. The first three are considered the pre-dementia stages, and the last four are the dementia stages. Knowing about the seven Alzheimer’s stages will help you plan and prepare.
The first of the three early stages of dementia involves no cognitive decline or memory problems. There are no symptoms to alert someone that he has Alzheimer’s disease. At this early stage, the only cause for concern may be a family history of dementia.
The person in Stage 2 begins to experience mild impairment. She finds herself forgetting where she put things, and she occasionally forgets the names of people she knows well. However, as of yet this might seem like normal forgetfulness.
It’s here that someone with Alzheimer’s begins to notice mild cognitive impairment in addition to steadily declining memory. He has problems concentrating and struggles to recall information he just read or to remember new names. He loses or misplaces things more often. Further, his family members and coworkers are beginning to notice declining performance.
This stage features moderate decline. It’s in Stage 4 that someone can receive the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Now, the person has difficulties remembering things from her past. Complex tasks like traveling and managing money are becoming increasingly challenging so that she now needs help. She also has decreasing knowledge of events that have happened recently
Psychologically, someone in Stage 4 is likely to begin to withdraw from challenging situations. She’ll begin to have a flattened affect, or emotionless expressions. Denial is a common problem starting in Stage 4.
By Stage 5, the person needs assistance in order to live. Memory problems abound, and he forgets names of people close to him, information from his past, and his own address. By now, time has become disorienting and confusing.
At this stage, while impairment is significant, he still knows his own name, the names of the people close to him, and factual information about himself and others.
Psychologically, he might be angry and suspicious, but with support, these are usually kept in check.
This is moderately severe Alzheimer’s disease. The person forgets everyone’s name but her own, and she’s largely unaware of both past and present events. She can go places, but not without assistance. Night wandering begins. The disease disrupts the sleeping cycle so that she often sleeps during the day and is up and about at night.
Now she needs help choosing appropriate clothing, dressing, practicing hygiene habits, and using the bathroom. She needs direct assistance with almost all physical needs and tasks.
Psychological and personality changes can be extreme. The person with Alzheimer’s experiences increased paranoia and can be afraid to be alone. She experiences shame. Obsessions and anxiety are common. Sometimes, this once-peaceful person becomes violent.
The final stage of Alzheimer’s is severe. Almost all functioning, mental and physical, is gone. He can’t speak other than occasional utterances. Psychomotor skills like walking or using his hands, have disappeared. His body becomes rigid, inflexible, and he can no longer sit up or even hold his head up. He can’t respond to the world around him. His brain has forgotten how to do almost everything.
How to Slow/Prevent Progression of Alzheimer’s
Researchers are developing medications to slow or even prevent Alzheimer’s, but nothing has been proven effective in clinical trials. While more research is underway, there are things that people can do to stay healthy overall and equip themselves to stave off Alzheimer’s. These include
- A healthy, drug-free lifestyle
- Movement and activity
- A healthy diet
- Mentally engaging activities that involve problem-solving and memory work
- Treating medical conditions like high blood pressure
There has been much chatter about the use of coconut oil to slow dementia. An Oxford University study examined whether there was a link between coconut oil and Alzheimer’s. They found that patients did see benefits, but that the benefits are short-term and temporary.
Black seed oil is another way some help to slow the progression of the disease. A study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology helped to back the idea that black seed oil is good for those who have Alzheimer's or are at risk for developing the disease later in life. The study showed that those who participated in taking 1000mg of the black seed oil capsules had improved memory and brain function.
While unfortunately there is nothing known to prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, keeping yourself healthy overall and knowing the 7 Stages of Alzheimer’s will help you live well with the disease as long as possible.