Symptoms and Signs of Alzheimer's Disease Stages

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 10/20/2022

Doctor's Notes on Alzheimer's Disease Stages

Alzheimer's disease is a common cause of dementia, which is impairment in memory and thinking severe enough to affect an individual's ability to function in daily life. The disease progresses at different rates in different people.

Early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include

  • mild and slowly worsening memory loss,
  • difficulty recognizing familiar people or things,
  • trouble remembering recent events or activities,
  • inability to solve simple arithmetic problems,
  • social withdrawal, and
  • trouble performing complex tasks.

Symptoms of the middle (intermediate) stage of Alzheimer's disease include

  • trouble with everyday activities,
  • major gaps in memory, inability to think clearly and solve problems,
  • inability to make judgments,
  • difficulty learning new information,
  • disorientation,
  • confusion, 
  • anxiety,
  • suspiciousness,
  • hallucinations, and
  • delusions.

Symptoms of late-stage Alzheimer's disease include

  • complete loss of short- and long-term memory,
  • inability to recognize close relatives and friends,
  • dependence on others for everyday activities,
  • urinary or stool incontinence,
  • severe disorientation,
  • personality changes such as hostility or aggressiveness,
  • loss of mobility,
  • impaired ability to communicate, 
  • difficulty swallowing, which can result in malnutrition, 
  • choking, and
  • aspiration.

What is the treatment for Alzheimer’s disease?

Because each patient with Alzheimer’s disease is at a different stage and may or may not have all of the possible symptoms attributed to each stage, treatments are geared to the individual’s symptomatic relief. There is no known treatment to cure or stop the progress of Alzheimer’s disease; at best, symptoms can be slowed and/or reduced. Treatments are both medication and non-medication based and are frequently used at the same time. For this short introduction, only the general class of medications and non-medications will be presented:

  • Medications
    • Cholinesterase inhibitors -memory improvement
    • Partial glutamate antagonists – better self-care
    • Memantine – treats moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease symptoms
    • Standard psychiatric drugs – to treat many symptoms like depression, agitation, anxiety, hallucinations, sleep disorders
  • Non-medication 
    • Exercise
    • Social interaction
    • Group games
    • Cognitive rehabilitation

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease; over time, symptoms may progress and the patient will fail to respond to treatments and require assistance for care. Average progression to death (from other causes like pneumonia) is about 8 – 15 years. Caregivers should seek support and consult with the patient’s doctors on progressive changes and how to manage them.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.