Alzheimer's disease typically develops slowly and causes a gradual decline in cognitive abilities, usually over a span of seven to 10 years. It eventually affects nearly all brain functions, including memory, movement, language, behavior, judgment and abstract reasoning.
While each individual is different, the progression of his or her disease can be roughly divided into three categories - mild, moderate and severe.
MILD: People in the early stages of Alzheimer's may experience memory loss, lapses of judgment and subtle changes in personality. They often have decreased attention span and less motivation to complete tasks. They may resist change and new challenges, and get lost even in familiar places. They may substitute or make up words that sound like or mean something like the forgotten word.
They may also put things in very odd places. For example, a wallet may end up in the freezer, or clothes may go into the dishwasher. They may ask repetitive questions or hoard things of no value. When frustrated or tired, they may become uncharacteristically angry.
MODERATE: In the middle stage of Alzheimer's, people can't organize thoughts or follow logical explanations. They lose the ability to follow written instructions and often need help choosing proper clothing for the season or occasion. They may also have episodes of urinary or fecal incontinence. It's usually during this stage that people start having problems recognizing family members and friends. They may become confused about where they are and what day, season or year it is. They become unable to recall their address or phone number.
Because they lack of judgment and tend to wander, people with moderate Alzheimer's disease aren't safe on their own. They may exhibit restless, repetitive movements in late afternoon, or continually repeat certain stories, words or motions, such as tearing tissues.
SEVERE: People in the last stage of Alzheimer's require help with all their daily needs. They lose the ability to walk without assistance and then the ability to sit up without support. They are usually incontinent and may no longer speak coherently. They rarely recognize family members. Swallowing difficulties can cause choking, and they may refuse to eat.