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Stages of Alzhiemer's

Although Alzheimer's disease has a recognizable progression of symptoms, it is often difficult to determine which stage a patient is in, they frequently overlap. However, a basic knowledge of the stages will help the caregiver to better understand what is happening and, hopefully, be able to make more appropriate responses.

Don't think of these time periods as an absolute.
Some patients go through them in a very short time; others live with the disease for over twenty years.

Some practitioners use three stages, others refer to Dr. Reisberg's 'Scale of Seven Stages'.
I have listed both on this page.

Three Stages

Early Stage - May last 2 to 4 years and will include:

  • Recent memory loss that affects job performance.
  • Gets lost on the way to work.
  • Loses a zest for life.
  • Becomes anxious and has mood and personality changes.
  • Makes bad decisions.
  • Trouble handling money.


Middle Stage - is the longest, from 2 to 10 years, and includes:

  • Shorter attention span.
  • Repetitive statements and movements.
  • Restlessness at night.
  • Makes up stories.
  • Becomes suspicious, irritable and fidgety.
  • Afraid to bathe and trouble dressing
  • Gains and loses weight.
  • Sees and hears things that are not there.
  • Requires full-time supervision.

Late Stage - lasts about 1 to 3 years and the patient:

  • Cannot recognize family or self in mirror.
  • Continues to lose weight even while eating well.
  • Cannot communicate with words.
  • Loses bladder and bowel control.
  • Sleeps more.




The Scale of Seven Stages

In 1982 Dr. Barry Reisberg published what was to become the best and most widely accepted description of the stages of Alzheimer's disease. Even today, years later, when experts refer to a person being in stage 5 or stage 6, they are referring to Dr. Reisberg's scale of seven stages.

LEVEL 1 - No cognitive decline - (or Normal Adult). No subjective complaints of memory deficit. No memory deficit evident on clinical interviews.

LEVEL 2 - Very mild cognitive decline (forgetfulness or normal older adult). Subjective complaints of memory deficit, most frequently in the following area:

  1. Forgetting where one has placed familiar objects;
  2. Forgetting names on formerly knew well. No objective evidence of memory deficit on clinical interview. No objective deficits in employment or social situations. Appropriate concern regarding symptoms.

LEVEL 4 - Mild cognitive decline (early confusional or Early AD). Earliest clear-cut deficits. Manifestations in more than one of the following areas:

  1. patient may have gotten lost when traveling to an unfamiliar location;
  2. co-workers become aware of patient's relatively low performance;
  3. word and name finding deficit becomes evident to intimates;
  4. patient may read a passage of a book and retain relatively little material;
  5. patient may demonstrate decreased facility in remembering names upon introduction to new people;
  6. patient may have lost or misplaced an object of value;
  7. concentration deficit may be evident on clinical testing. Objective evidence of memory deficit obtained only with an intensive interview. Denial begins to become manifest in patient. Mild to moderate anxiety accompanies symptoms.Deficits noticed in demanding employment situations.

LEVEL 5a - Moderate cognitive decline (Late Confusional or Mild AD). Clear-cut deficit on careful clinical interview. Deficit manifest in following areas:

  1. decreased knowledge of current and recent events;
  2. may exhibit some deficit in memory of one's personal history;
  3. concentration deficit elicited on serial subtractions;
  4. decreased ability to travel, handle finances, etc.

Frequently no deficit in the following areas:

  1. orientation to time and person;
  2. recognition of familiar persons and faces;
  3. ability to travel to familiar locations. Inability to perform complex tasks. Denial is dominant defense mechanism. Flattening of affect and withdrawl from challenging situations occur.

LEVEL 5b - Moderately severe cognitive decline (Early Dementia or moderate AD). Patient can no longer survive without some assistance. Patient is unable during interview to recall a major relevant aspect of their current lives, e.g., an address or telephone number of many years, the names of close family members (such as grandchildren), the name of the high school or college from which they graduated. Frequently some disorientation to time (date, day of week, season, etc.) or to place. An educated person may have difficulty counting back from 40 by 4s or from 20 by 2s. Persons at this stage retain knowledge of many major facts regarding themselves and others. They invariably know their own names and generally know their spouse's and children's names. They require no assistance with toileting and eating, but may have some difficulty choosing the proper clothing to wear.

LEVEL 6 - Severe cognitive decline (Middle Dementia or Moderately Severe AD). May occasionally forget the name of the spouse upon whom they are entirely dependent for survival. Will be largely unaware of all recent events and experiences in their lives. Retain some knowledge of their past lives but this is very sketchy. Generally unaware of their surroundings, the year, the season, etc. May have difficulty counting from 10, both backward and sometimes forward. Will require some assistance with activities of daily living, e.g., may become incontinent, will require travel assistance but occasionally will display ability to familiar locations. Diurnal rhythm frequently disturbed. Almost always recall their own name. Frequently continue to be able to distinguish familiar from unfamiliar persons in their environment. Personality and emotional changes occur. These are quite variable and include

  1. delusional behavior, e.g., paatients may accuse their spouse of being an impostor, may talk to imaginary figures in the environment, or to their own reflection in the mirror;
  2. obsessive symptoms, e.g., person may
    continually repeat simple cleaning activities;
  3. anxiety symptoms, agitation, and even previously nonexistent violent behavior may occur;
  4. cognitive abulla, i.e., loss of willpower because an individual cannot carry a thought long enough to determine a purposeful course of action.
  • 6a - Requires Assistance dressing
  • 6b - Requires Assistance bathing properly
  • 6c - Requires Assistance with mechanics of toileting
  • 6d - Urinary incontinence
  • 6e - Fecal incontinence

LEVEL 7 - Very severe cognitive decline (Late Dementia or Severe AD). All verbal abilities are lost. Frequently there is no speech at all - only grunting. Incontinent of urine, requires assistance toileting and feeding. Lose basic psychomotor skills, e.g., ability to walk, sitting and head control.

The brain appears to no longer be able to tell the body what to do. Generalized and cortical neurologic signs and symptoms are frequently  present.

  • 7a - Speech ability limited to about a half-dozen intelligible words
  • 7b - Intelligible vocabulary limited to a single word
  • 7c - Ambulatory ability lost
  • 7d - Ability to sit up lost
  • 7e - Ability to smile lost
  • 7f - Ability to hold up head lost