Progression & Stages of Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's disease advances slowly through three stages, ranging from mild forgetfulness to severe dementia. In the first stage of Alzheimer's, symptoms include impaired memory of recent events, faulty judgment, and poor insight. People may forget important appointments, recent family events, and highly publicized news stories. Other symptoms include losing or misplacing possessions, repetition of questions or statements, and minor or occasional disorientation.

In the second stage of Alzheimer's disease, memory problems grow worse and basic self-care skills begin to decline. Patients have trouble expressing themselves verbally or in writing and may be unable to perform everyday activities, such as dressing, bathing, using a knife or fork, or brushing their teeth. They may also suffer from delusions or hallucinations.

In the third stage of Alzheimer's, almost all reasoning capacity is lost. Individuals become completely dependent on others for their care. The disorder eventually becomes so debilitating that most patients cannot walk or feed themselves and become susceptible to other diseases.

Lung and urinary tract infections are common. Pneumonia is the most common cause of death among Alzheimer's patients.

Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease

For now, no treatment can prevent or halt the mental deterioration associated with Alzheimer's disease. The search for effective drug therapy has focused on preventing the destruction of nerve cells, with the ultimate goal of preserving cognitive function for as long as possible and managing the disease's cognitive and behavioral symptoms.

One treatment approach is based on the theory that memory problems associated with Alzheimer's result in part from a deficiency of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Researchers have sought ways to boost the amount of acetylcholine in the brain by administering substances containing the chemical, stimulating the brain to manufacture more of it, or preventing the breakdown of the limited quantities of acetylcholine that the brain does produce.

Publication Review By: Peter V. Rabins, M.D., M.P.H.

Published: 09 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 28 Aug 2015