The stages of Alzheimer's disease

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Alzheimer's disease is usually described in terms of stages, indicating the severity of the symptoms. Learn about the stages on this page, from early stage to end of life.

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Information on the progression of Alzheimer's disease is also available to read in downloadable, print-friendly PDFs:

Progression from stage to stage

  • Alzheimer's disease is a brain disease where brain cells progressively degenerate.
  • Alzheimer's typically follows certain stages that bring about different changes in that person's life, as well as the lives of their family members.
  • Because the disease affects each person differently, the symptoms, the order in which they appear, and the duration of each stage vary from person to person.
  • In most cases, the disease progresses slowly, and the symptoms of each stage may overlap, often making the move from one stage to another quite subtle.

The early stage

Early stage refers to people of any age who have mild impairment due to symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Common symptoms include:

  • Forgetfulness,
  • Difficulty learning new things and following conversations,
  • Difficulty concentrating or limited attention span,
  • Mood shifts including apathy and depression and
  • Mild co-ordination problems.

These symptoms may not stand out at first. The person in the early stage of Alzheimer's retains many of their functional capabilities and assistance may not be needed, or requested. However, problems may start to recur, like difficulty handling a task at work that the person is otherwise used to.

The person may have insight into their changing abilities, and can inform others of their experience of living with the disease as well as to take steps to plan for their future care and finances.

To learn more, read our early stage information sheet.

The middle stage

The middle stage brings a greater decline in the person’s cognitive and functional abilities. This stage often seems the longest and everyone involved will need help and support.

Memory and other cognitive abilities will continue to deteriorate, although the person may still have some awareness of their condition.

For families and caregivers, this is the point where:

  • Their involvement in the person's care increases substantially,
  • Moving the person to a long-term care home may be considered for the first time,
  • Programs and services in your community can be a big help, providing support in the form of adult day programs, respite care and more,
  • Everyone involved will need help and support because of the increasing challenges faced by those with Alzheimer's disease and their family.

To learn more, read our middle stage information sheet.

The late stage

The late stage of Alzheimer’s disease may also be called the “severe” or “advanced” stage.

In this stage, the person living with Alzheimer's eventually becomes unable to communicate verbally or look after themselves. Nonverbal communication becomes increasingly important.

The person in the late stage of Alzheimer's will experience:

  • Severe impairment in memory, processing new information and recognizing time and place,
  • Losing capacity for recognizable speech and
  • The loss of the ability to eat, walk and use the toilet without assistance.

Care may be required 24 hours a day. At this stage, it's vital for families and caregivers to continue to support the person to ensure the highest quality of life possible.

To learn more, read our late stage information sheet.

End-of-life

The person in the final months of dementia will experience increased mental and physical deterioration, eventually needing 24-hour care.

When the person nears death, the focus shifts to palliative care and comfort. Still, it's vital to respect the person's wishes as they would have wanted.

As with the care of someone living with a terminal illness, the person's physical, emotional and spiritual needs must be tended with care to ensure that they are as comfortable as possible when the time of passing comes.

The needs of people living with dementia at the end of life are unique and require special considerations. Please visit our section on end-of-life care or read our end of life information sheet to learn more.

Get a diagnosis

To help fight the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and stave off progression into the later stages, it's important to be diagnosed as early as possible. If you're concerned that you may have Alzheimer's, find out about how to get a diagnosis.

How do I treat Alzheimer's?

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease, nor can its progression be reversed. Current treatment options and brain-healthy lifestyle choices, however, can often significantly slow the progression of the disease.

More useful links and resources

Progression – Overview. Alzheimer Society of Canada. This downloadable information sheet provides a summary of the stages of Alzheimer's and information on end-of-life issues.

Progression – Early stage. Alzheimer Society of Canada. The early stage of Alzheimer's disease is examined in this downloadable information sheet.

Progression – Middle stage. Alzheimer Society of Canada. The middle stage of Alzheimer's disease is examined in this downloadable information sheet.

Progression – Late stage. Alzheimer Society of Canada. The late stage of Alzheimer's disease is examined in this downloadable information sheet.

Progression – End-of-life. Alzheimer Society of Canada. The end-of-life stage of Alzheimer's disease is examined in this downloadable information sheet.

What is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that destroys brain cells, causing thinking ability and memory to deteriorate over time. Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging, and is irreversible.

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Genetic testing and Alzheimer's disease

Genetic testing can sometimes help identify whether a person has a high or low chance of developing Alzheimer's disease. On this page, find out more about genetic testing for Alzheimer's and whether it applies to you.

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End-of-life care

The needs of people with dementia at the end of life are unique and require special considerations. This section can help you prepare for end of life, make some of the difficult decisions you may face, and cope with the grief and loss you might experience.

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Do I have dementia?

If you're unsure whether you have dementia, this section will help you. Get answers to common questions. Recognize what's a warning sign and what's part of normal aging. Know when it may be time to seek a diagnosis.

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How can I treat dementia?

There are currently no treatments that can reverse cognitive decline brought on by dementia. However, there are approaches you can take that can help you fight symptoms and maintain your quality of life for as long as possible.

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