Alzheimer's disease is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. It primarily affects older adults, although people of any age can show symptoms of the disease. The disease has seven stages and eventually leads to the destruction of brain cells. This gradually reduces memory and bodily functions over time until a person cannot perform normal tasks without assistance. Alzheimer's has no cure.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. Dementia is a chronic or persistent condition that affects cognitive functions, including memory and personality, according to the Oxford American Dictionary. While mild memory loss is a normal side effect of aging, severe memory loss, confusion and physical impairment may be indicative of a more serious problem, such as Alzheimer's. The disease can be diagnosed through a number of tests, verbal interviews and brain scans, according to the National Institute on Aging. If the disease is detected early, patients can receive information and support about their condition, and medications can moderate the affects of the disease.
Stages 1 and 2
Stage 1 of Alzheimer's disease is characterized by a lack of impairment in normal daily living. It is believed that the destruction of brain cells caused by Alzheimer's disease can begin decades before the disease has caused enough impairment to lead to a diagnosis, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
Stage 2 is marked by mild impairment. A person who has the disease may notice memory lapses, such as misplaced keys or difficulty recalling a name. However, these lapses are not enough to cause alarm in friends, family and health-care providers, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
Stages 3 and 4
During Stage 3 of Alzheimer's disease, a person may experience what the Alzheimer's Association calls a "mild cognitive decline." It is during this stage that friends, family and medical professionals may begin to suspect a problem. During this stage, patients may have more problems recalling and remembering names, a hampered ability to absorb reading material, increased likelihood of losing or misplacing objects, hampered ability to plan and organize, and a decline in performance in work, school or social settings.
According to the association, Stage 4 of Alzheimer's marks more clear-cut problems with memory and function including: Inability to perform complex mathematical problems. Decreased ability to recall current events. Hampered memory of personal history. Socially withdrawn. Decline in ability to organize and perform complex tasks.
Stages 5 and 6
During these stages, Alzheimer's patients begin experiencing more apparent physical changes. Stage 5 is characterized by significant memory problems and a need for some assistance with normal daily tasks. During Stage 5 Alzheimer's, patients may be unable to recall important personal information, such as their address or phone number. They are often confused about the time of year and may need assistance choosing appropriate clothing for the day or season. They also have difficulty completing basic mathematical equations.
Stage 6 of Alzheimer's is marked by a loss of personal awareness and history. These patients may sometimes forget the names of their spouse and children and experience serious changes in personality and behavior. They may need help using the restroom and may experience an increase in incontinence. They may also need help getting dressed, and may have interrupted sleep patterns. They may wander and get lost, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
Stage 7 is the final stage of Alzheimer's disease. These patients are unable to speak clearly and need help using the restroom, walking and eating. Their swallowing becomes impaired and their muscles become rigid.
The following are common misconceptions about Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association and the World Health Organization: Alzheimer's disease only affects the elderly. All levels of memory loss are part of normal old age. Alzheimer's and/or memory loss can be caused by use of the following: aspartame, aluminum cans, flu shots and silver dental fillings. There are treatment options for Alzheimer's disease. There is a cure for Alzheimer's disease. Those with Alzheimer's disease are "mad" or "crazy." Those with severe Alzheimer's can be taught to behave.