Learning that you have Alzheimer’s disease changes your life, but not all at once. It progresses slowly over several years, in three general stages — mild, then moderate, and, finally, severe. If you act early, you can have better quality of life in each stage and plan for the changes to come.
The most common early symptom is trouble recalling something you just learned. In this early stage, you may also notice it’s a little harder to remember other things, make decisions, and find your way around new places. Other people may not notice your symptoms at first.
You may find that you:
Mild Alzheimer’s can last for years. You may be able to live on your own throughout, but you’ll need a good support system. Lean on your family and friends or get advice from your doctor or local Alzheimer’s group on how to get help with shopping, meals, and getting out and about. This is also a good time for you to decide how you want to be cared for as the disease progresses.
To make daily life easier, try these tips:
This is the longest stage of Alzheimer’s. It can last many years — it’s different from person to person. As your Alzheimer’s evolves, your memory will get worse. You’ll have more trouble with language and thinking clearly. You may:
Your personality may also change during this stage. You may:
When your Alzheimer’s is moderate, you’ll probably need to live with family or in a residential care setting, or have a trained caregiver in your home. You may need help to get dressed, take your medicines safely, and manage your finances. It may be unsafe for you to use the kitchen and be alone. Your doctor may change your current medication and suggest drug or non-drug ways to deal with personality changes.
In late-stage Alzheimer’s, you may no longer be aware of where you are or remember your life history. Your physical abilities are also affected, and you may not be able to carry out simple tasks. You may:
When Alzheimer’s is most severe, your brain seems unable to tell your body what to do. You may sit on the toilet, forgetting what to do there, or hold food in your mouth, not remembering how to swallow. As your body shuts down, you may spend most or all of your time in bed.
When your Alzheimer’s is severe, you will need a great deal of help with daily activities and personal care. In order to get the care you need, you may need to live in an Alzheimer’s care setting. Hospice care can keep you comfortable in the final months of the disease.
This is how Alzheimer’s generally evolves, but your disease may progress differently. Changes in your abilities may come on slower or faster than another person’s. People with Alzheimer’s live an average of about 8 years after their symptoms are noticeable. Depending on your age and health, you could live as long as 20 years.
Reviewed by John T. Smith, MD on February 18, 2014