What are the stages of Alzheimer's disease? [ 04/29/13 ]
The following stages represent the general course the disease follows, but moving from one stage to another may not be perceptable due to the fact that the symptoms are on a gradual continuum of severity.
Physical conditions connected to Alzheimer’s disease exist in a person’s body long before symptoms are evident. These conditions are normally defined through the use of “biomarker” tests, like those searching for beta-amyloid and tau proteins in blood and cerebrospinal fluid, and specialized PET and MRI scans. Currently, this stage is only defined in research settings and clinical trials and is unlikely to be given as an official clinical diagnosis by a health professional.
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) Due To Alzheimer’s Disease/Prodromal Stage:
Recently, scientists have identified a condition between normal age-related memory loss and dementia called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Individuals with MCI have persistent memory problems (for example, difficulty remembering names and following conversations and marked forgetfulness) but are able to perform routine activities without more than usual assistance. MCI often leads to Alzheimer’s, but while all those who progress to some form of dementia go through a period of MCI, not all patients exhibiting MCI will develop Alzheimer’s disease. An official clinical diagnosis of MCI can be given by a health professional.
Dementia Due To Alzheimer’s Disease (Mild, Moderate, Severe Stages):
Mild (Stage 1)
Early in the illness, people with Alzheimer’s tend to lose energy and spontaneity, though often no one notices anything unusual. They exhibit minor memory loss and mood swings and are slow to learn and react. After a while they start to shy away from anything new and prefer the familiar. In this stage, Alzheimer’s patients can still perform basic tasks independently but may need assistance with more complicated activities. Speech and understanding become slower, and patients often lose their train of thought in midsentence. They may also get lost while traveling or forget to pay bills. As they become aware of this loss of control, they may become depressed, fearful, irritable, and restless.
Moderate (Stage 2)
Eventually, people with the illness begin to be disabled by it. Though the distant past may be recalled, recent events become difficult to remember. Advancing Alzheimer’s affects the ability to comprehend location, the day, and the time. Caregivers must give clear instructions and repeat them often. As Alzheimer’s patients’ minds continue to slip away, they may invent words and not recognize formerly familiar faces.
Severe (Stage 3)
During the final stage, patients become more and more unresponsive. Memory becomes so poor that no one is recognizable. Patients lose bowel and bladder control and eventually need constant care. They lose the ability to chew and swallow and become bedridden and vulnerable to pneumonia, infection, and other illnesses. Respiratory problems worsen, particularly when the patient becomes bedridden. This terminal stage eventually leads to coma and death.
Is there a test to detect a predisposition to Alzheimer's? [ 04/29/13 ]
There is a test currently available that can identify which forms of apolipoprotein (ApoE) are present in the blood. One form, ApoE4, is associated with an already well-studied condition, heart disease, and appears to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's as well. However, this blood can only detect whether ApoE4 is present, not if and when the person will develop Alzheimer's.
In 2007, researchers at Stanford University published some promising study results in which 18 blood proteins (and resultant chemical signals) were tested to determine the risk of advancement from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to Alzheimer's disease. In the study, the scientists were able to predict whether the subjects would progress to Alzheimer's with 90% accuracy. However, this study tested a relatively small number of people, and larger studies will need to be undertaken.
How long does Alzheimer's disease last on average? [ 04/29/13 ]
On average, patients with Alzheimer's disease live for 8 to 10 years after diagnosis. However, this terminal disease can last for as long as 20 years.
Where can I find more information about Alzheimer's disease? [ 04/29/13 ]
BrightFocus’ Alzheimer's Disease Research website goes into greater depth on many topics and covers additional areas of concern, both medical and social. You can learn where to get help and access to resources, as well as download free publications. And explore our Ask an Expert section where you can read or post queries to doctors.
For more information dealing with the topics below, please visit the helpful organizations section of our website.
- General Information, Resources, and Referrals
- State and Local Resources
- Caregiving and Caregiver Support
- Government Programs
- Legal Assistance
- Long-Term Care and Living Options
- Research and Clinical Trials
- Hospice Care
What is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia? [ 04/29/13 ]
Dementia is a decline in thinking, reasoning, and/or remembering. People with dementia have difficulty carrying out daily tasks they have performed routinely and independently throughout their lives. Vascular dementia, a hardening of the arteries in the brain that causes blockage in blood flow, is one of the two most common forms of dementia; the other is Alzheimer's disease. These two conditions account for the vast majority of cases; both are irreversible, although sometimes their symptoms can be managed.
A doctor can accurately determine whether a person is suffering from Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia. If a person appears to be losing mental abilities to a degree that interferes with daily activities and social interactions, consult a doctor.
Is Alzheimer's covered by Medicare/Medicaid? [ 04/29/13 ]
Medicare is a federal health insurance program for people age 65 or older who receive Social Security retirement benefits. To receive assistance from Medicare, a person must meet specific eligibility requirements. Medicare covers some, but not all, of the services a person with Alzheimer's disease may require. For example, the program does not cover long term healthcare. Medicaid is a federal program for certain individuals and families with low incomes and resources, typically administered by state agencies; eligibility and benefits vary from state to state. Medicaid can cover all or a portion of nursing home costs. A person with Alzheimer's can qualify for long term care only if there are minimal income and cash assets. Medicaid may be applied for by calling each state's Department of Human Services or Medicaid Assistance Program.
Who should I go to if I suspect I may have Alzheimer's disease? [ 04/29/13 ]
First, visit your regular family physician. The physician will probably do a variety of tests to determine the probability of Alzheimer's. Specialists such as neurologists, gerontologists and geriatric psychiatrists may also be involved in the evaluation process.
How is Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed? [ 04/29/13 ]
While an autopsy can confirm the presence of the disease, skilled physicians can correctly diagnose Alzheimer's disease about 90 percent of the time based on mental and behavioral symptoms, a physical examination, and neuropsychological and laboratory tests. Scientists have recently developed a number of new biomarker and brain scanning techniques that may help to improve diagnosis.
Mentally, having trouble following instructions, losing one's orientation, displaying poor judgment, and having difficulty managing money, shopping, or driving are all possible symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
The physical exam will usually include a general physical, blood tests, and urinalysis. The doctor can use such test results to eliminate other forms of dementia—for instance, certain vitamins and hormones can provoke symptoms of dementia if they are present in too little a quantity. Brain scans can rule out non-Alzheimer's disease dementia and can reveal structural changes present in Alzheimer's disease.
The physician will determine whether neuropsychological testing is called for to examine memory, attention, math calculations, language and other intellectual functions.
The place to start is with one's own physician, who may then suggest specialists to do further testing.