Alzheimer’s disease is one of the diseases of mental decline (dementia). It affects peoples’ judgment skills and ability to remember, solve problems, and communicate effectively. It is more prevalent among seniors because it typically gets worse over time and with age.
While people with Alzheimer’s may experience different symptoms, there is a common path of progression from early to late stages.
The two most commonly used stage classifications for Alzheimer’s are the 3 general phases and the 7-stage Global Deterioration Scale, developed by Dr. Barry Resiberg. The 3 general phases consist of early, middle, and late stages while Dr. Resiberg’s classifications are more granular and detailed.
In this article, we review the 3 general phases of Alzheimer’s as supplemented by their corresponding stages from the Global Deterioration Scale.
Phase 1- Early-Stage or Mild Alzheimer’s
This phase ranges from mild impairment to intermittent memory loss and can last for two to four years. This phase covers stages one to three of Resiberg’s scale.
Global Deterioration Scale Stage 1: No Impairment
This is the preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s and there are no signs or symptoms of the disease yet.
Alzheimer’s is suspected at this stage through risk factors such as family history. You or your loved one will be fully independent at this stage.
Global Deterioration Scale Stage 2: Normal Forgetfulness
Seniors may experience minor decline in memory and may lose objects around the home. They may also forget common words or names. At this point, Alzheimer’s can’t be easily distinguished from memory loss related to aging.
Global Deterioration Scale Stage 3: Mild Impairment
Here, only your loved one can recognize the symptom-driven changes. This stage can also be diagnosed through an intense interview by doctors to discover impaired cognitive abilities.
People in stage 3 Alzheimer’s may experience the following:
- Forgetting new names or people
- Getting lost on familiar routes
- Difficulty organizing and planning
- Misplacing important items like car keys or wallet
- Lost focus
Patients at this stage may experience anxiety and be in denial of their condition.
Phase 2 – Moderate Alzheimer’s
This phase is the longest, lasting from two to 10 years, when definitive Alzheimer’s symptoms begin to show. This phase covers stages four and five of Resiberg’s scale.
Global Deterioration Scale Stage 4: Moderate Decline
The symptoms at this stage may include:
- Decreased awareness of current events
- Difficulty with simple arithmetic
- Degenerated short-term memory
- Challenges managing finances and bill payment
- Frequent mood changes
Individuals may also need help with writing checks and buying groceries.
Global Deterioration Scale Stage 5: Moderately Severe Decline
People at this stage may have difficulty remembering major events or their current address. Counting backward may be challenging.
Patients are still functional and remember their names and close family members, but may need help with daily tasks like getting dressed.
Phase 3 – Late Stage Alzheimer’s
Dementia symptoms are worse at this stage. Patients cannot respond properly to their environment. This phase covers stages six and seven of Resiberg’s scale.
Global Deterioration Scale Stage 6: Moderately Severe Alzheimer’s
Changes associated with this stage include:
- Loss of awareness of surroundings and recent experience
- Impaired ability to walk, sit, or swallow
- Inability to wear clothes
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Confusing family members with others
Patients may need round-the-clock assistance with daily tasks. Brushing and bathing assistance are necessary to prevent a decline in hygiene. Patients may need help with cleaning and flushing the toilet. Regular behavioral counseling may help with during this phase.
Global Deterioration Scale Stage 7: Severe Alzheimer’s
This is the last stage of the disease. It may last from 12 to 18 months. The immune system is weak and patients are susceptible to infections, especially pneumonia.
Patients generally experience the following symptoms:
- Limited speech of a few words or less
- Inability to sit up independently
- Rigid body movement accompanied by pain
Your loved one will need help with all their daily activities at this stage.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but treatment and medical interventions can slow down its progression.
With the knowledge of Alzheimer’s progression, you or your loved one will have an opportunity to live well with the disease and plan ahead for the future. In home caregivers, like the certified and trained caregivers at AmeriCare, can help during the transition to provide support to individuals and their families learning to live with this disease.