Can You Predict Progression?
Alzheimer’s and dementia can create challenges that affect the quality of life of older adults. In the early stages, most people can live independently. However, as the disease progresses, adults need the support of their community, caregivers, and care services to ensure their comfort and health.
But when does Alzheimer’s progress? Can you predict when your loved one may experience symptoms?
What Is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease affects cognitive function, including memory, behavior, and thinking. It’s the most common cause of dementia, with aging being the most significant risk factor for developing the disease. Although it’s more common in adults over 65, people can develop early-onset Alzheimer’s in their 40s or 50s.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that damages connections in the brain. Abnormal cell structures, called plaques and tangles, initially develop in the part of the brain responsible for memory. Over time, the abnormal development spreads to other areas of the brain.
Symptoms can vary depending on the stage of development, ranging from mild to severe. It can be challenging to predict when a person may experience a progression through the stages. Everyone has a unique experience and unique health factors to consider.
Age and health are the most significant predictors. For example, a person aged 80 or older may live 3–4 years after their initial diagnosis. But if a person is diagnosed earlier, they may live 10 or more years. Additionally, older adults are more vulnerable to social isolation, which increases the risk of severe health problems.
A person with mild or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease may struggle with tasks but can still live independently. Alzheimer’s disease is typically diagnosed in this first stage.
Mild symptoms can include:
- Difficulty handling finances & paying bills
- Increased anxiety or aggression
- Losing or misplacing things
- Loss of spontaneity & motivation
- Mild memory loss
- Minor mood & personality changes
- Poor judgment
- Repeating questions
- Taking longer to complete daily tasks
- Wandering and getting lost
People with preclinical Alzheimer’s disease (the period before diagnosis) or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) can live for few or minor symptoms for years. Sometimes, the initial development stage can last decades before symptoms are noticed.
The middle stage of Alzheimer’s disease can introduce more challenges. Some individuals can complete some activities of daily living (ADLs) with few difficulties. In contrast, others require some assistance from a caregiver.
Notably, instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), such as managing medications or finances, can be overwhelming in the middle stage. Family, friends, or caregivers may need to take more responsibility for household management.
Some common symptoms of moderate Alzheimer’s include:
- Behavior changes (agitation, anxiety, depression, restlessness)
- Challenges completing IADLs & multi step tasks
- Difficulty organizing thoughts or logical thinking
- Difficulty with communication & language (reading, writing, numbers)
- Hallucinations, delusions, & paranoia
- Increased memory loss & confusion
- Inability to learn new things or cope with new situations
- Problems recognizing family and friends
- Impulsive or socially inappropriate behavior (undressing, vulgar language)
- Increased wandering (particularly in the late afternoon or evening)
- Repetitive language or movement
- Shortened attention span
Moderate or middle-stage Alzheimer’s is typically the longest stage. People can live with moderate symptoms for many years. Additionally, many people living with middle-stage Alzheimer’s can still control and engage with healthy lifestyle habits to slow the disease’s progression.
Late-stage Alzheimer’s can include debilitating symptoms, so 24-hour care is necessary to ensure comfort and safety. Unfortunately, people with severe Alzheimer’s have difficulty communicating, so caregivers must be more attuned to nonverbal communication.
Severe symptoms of Alzheimer’s also increase the risk of health problems, and often lose their ability to move freely. Advanced symptoms increase the risk of dehydration, malnutrition, and falls.
People with late-stage Alzheimer’s are more vulnerable to infection. Aspiration pneumonia is common in late-stage Alzheimer’s. The condition develops when a person cannot swallow properly, causing them to inhale food or liquids instead of air.
In addition to previous memory and cognitive symptoms, late-stage Alzheimer’s symptoms can include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Groaning, moaning, or grunting
- Increased sleeping
- Inability to communicate
- Loss of bowel & bladder control
- Weight loss
- Skin infections
Slowing Alzheimer’s Progression
We still don’t have a complete picture of what causes Alzheimer’s. But research has studied risk factors for developing the disease. Although genetics and aging are crucial factors when considering development and progression, studies have also found additional health risks—and ways to reduce your risks.
Healthy lifestyle habits can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Health care can also improve or treat many conditions linked to Alzheimer’s development.
You can practice these 7 lifestyle and health habits to protect brain health:
1. Enjoy some mental stimulation (puzzles, games, classes)
2. Establish a healthy, nutritious diet (Example: DASH)
3. Manage vascular health (blood pressure, cholesterol levels)
4. Move more (150 minutes of activity per week)
5. Improve your sleep quality (routine, sleep apnea screening, etc.)
6. Reduce stress with fun activities, rest, or exercise
7. Socialize regularly (friends, family, clubs, etc.)
Support for Any Stage
Living in a senior community can give older adults the support they need to protect their health and wellbeing. Our community in Cresskill is dedicated to providing residents fulfillment and joy through access to various meaningful activities and services.
Seniors can thrive with a personalized experience, companionship, and quality care. We welcome you to schedule a tour or contact us to learn more about our beautiful community. We’d love to meet you!