How Do You Know What Stage of Alzheimer’s Your Loved One Is In?


The realization that your loved one may be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s is usually a gradual process of noticing small changes in that person’s memory or behavior. Maybe your mother, who could always remember names, suddenly can’t recall the name of her youngest grandchild. Maybe your dad starts showing up to appointments late when he was always reliably punctual in the past.  When you begin to suspect dementia or Alzheimer’s you will probably hit up the internet or the local library, trying to gather as much information about the diseases as possible.

Right away, you’ll learn that Alzheimer’s is broken out into stages. This begs the question – what stage is your loved one in right now? How long does each stage last? What can you expect within each stage, and how do you know when your loved one moves from one stage to the next? The truth is that these questions are extremely difficult to answer! Let’s look at what we know about the stages of Alzheimer’s and how the stages can be useful if your loved one receives an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

What Are the Stages of Alzheimer’s?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “On average, a person with Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after diagnosis, but can live as long as 20 depending on other factors.” Within this time frame, your loved one’s condition will slowly decline as the disease progresses, and you will notice that his or her personality, temperament, and capabilities will change. The process is usually gradual, so you may not even be fully aware of how much your loved one is changing over time.

To help track the disease, experts have divided Alzheimer’s into stages. However, not every source agrees on a set number of stages, the terminology of the stages, or even what behavior compromises the stages. For example, the Alzheimer’s Association lays out just three major stages of Alzheimer’s (Mild, Moderate, and Severe), while the Mayo Clinic lists five stages, (Preclinical Alzheimer’s, Mild Cognitive Impairment, Mild Dementia, Moderate Dementia, and Severe Dementia), and WebMD endorses seven stages of Alzheimer’s, (Normal Behavior, Very Mild Changes, Mild Decline, Moderate Decline, Moderately Severe Decline, Severe Decline, and Very Severe Decline).

With so many different interpretations of the stages of Alzheimer’s, it can be difficult for friends and family members to correctly place their loved one within the correct stage.

How to Know Which Stage Your Loved One Is in and When They Move to Another Stage

How can you correctly determine which stage of Alzheimer’s your loved one is in? You’ll need to carefully review the list of “typical” behaviors affiliated with each stage to figure out which best applies to your loved one. For example, the Alzheimer’s Association explains that those with moderate Alzheimer’s may confuse words, get frustrated, act in unexpected ways, and need help choosing the right clothing for weather and activities.

It is extremely important to understand that these stages are merely meant to act as guidelines. Alzheimer’s affects each person differently, and while some behaviors may be spot on for a certain category, others may not. There is no “typical” case of Alzheimer’s or anyone who falls perfectly into one stage. In fact, you may notice that your loved one’s behavior and symptoms may straddle more than one stage. That is normal too!

Don’t try to force your loved one into a stage of Alzheimer’s or let the stages control how you view and respond to your loved one. Throughout your Alzheimer’s journey, you’ll need to see your loved one as an individual and respond to his or her symptoms as they come and go.

Your loved one won’t just progress from one stage to the next over the course of the day. Alzheimer’s is almost always a gradual, complex disease with many different symptoms. Progression will be slow, and your loved one could linger between stages for months or longer!

How to Use the Stages of Alzheimer’s

So, if the stages are more like “guidelines” rather than clear signposts, what use are they? The stages of Alzheimer’s can help you anticipate what you can expect down the road as your loved one progresses through the illness. They can also help you better observe symptoms in your loved one and to determine when more care is needed. For example, if your mother lives at home with you and you are her primary caretaker, you may not even realize that she needs significantly more care today than she did last year. If you can recognize that she has moved from the mild to the moderate stage of Alzheimer’s, this might help you start to consider whether you need to hire a home health aid to assist your efforts or if it might be time to start considering placing your mother in a memory care facility at Sunshine Care.

Here at Sunshine Care, we asses each new resident and endeavor to place them in a home setting along with other residents who are at a similar stage of Alzheimer’s. This helps us avoid situations in which someone who is more independent is placed in a home with residents who need more assistance and care, and vice versa!

There is plenty of information online about the various stages of Alzheimer’s, but just remember that your personal experience will be different! That’s why it can be so useful to attend a support group and meet with other families who are also experiencing their own personal Alzheimer’s and dementia journey. If you live in Poway or San Diego County, we invite you to our free monthly support group for family members and caregivers

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1 reply

  1. Very helpful. My Lady is now gone, but she progressed quite slowly from one stage to another until she entered the later stages. The decline in less than a year towards the end was very rapid and frightening. I was not prepared for that down hill plunge. We caught it just in time to prevent her from endangering her own safety and placed her in a care center.

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