The progression of Alzheimer’s disease

progression diagram

Healthy elderly adult No obvious memory impairment

progression diagram

‘Pre-clinical’ healthy elderly adult Awareness of some memory loss or cognitive decline, but difficult to distinguish this from normal age-related changes

progression diagram

Mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s disease More memory loss symptoms and cognitive decline (e.g., losing things frequently, difficulty finding the right words, trouble planning and organizing)

progression diagram

Mild Alzheimer’s disease Family and friends notice increasing memory loss and cognitive problems

progression diagram

Moderate Alzheimer’s disease Needs help with day-to-day activities

progression diagram

Severe Alzheimer’s disease Major memory gaps and cognitive decline (e.g., confusion and inability to recognize faces except close friends and relatives). Personality changes start to emerge

progression diagram

Very severe Alzheimer’s disease Inability to communicate properly and major physical decline

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These stages represent the Functional Assessment Staging (FAST) scale of Alzheimer’s disease. Although each stage is distinct, there is some overlap. Therefore, it’s useful to view the scale as a spectrum.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Although the terms Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. Dementia is what is called an ‘umbrella’ term – it is the name given to a group of symptoms that affect your ability to think or reason clearly. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease of the brain. It is the most common form of dementia, accounting for up to 60-80% of cases.

There are currently no treatments for the disease, only medication that may temporarily slow the symptoms.

Early stage diagnosis

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease can take a long time and usually involves a series of tests, including questionnaires and brain scans.

However, using new techniques such as PET scans and lumbar punctures (spinal taps), it is possible for physicians to detect Alzheimer’s disease earlier.

Investigating early stage treatments

Research shows that changes in the brain start a long time before the typical Alzheimer’s disease symptoms of memory loss, changes in behavior and problems with coordination appear. So, with the ability now to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier, scientists have started looking at targeting the disease in its very early stages with the hope that getting treatment early could help slow progression of the disease.

http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_diagnosis.asp
http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_stages_of_alzheimers.asp
http://www.healthline.com/health/alzheimers-disease/difference-dementia-alzheimers#Overview1

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