Senior woman suffering the stages of Alzheimer's disease gets attention from healthcare worker, hand on shoulder

The Three Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease: Mild, Moderate, and Severe

Senior woman suffering the stages of Alzheimer's disease gets attention from healthcare worker, hand on shoulder

Did you know about 6.2 million U.S. citizens of all ages in 2021 are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease? Seventy-two percent are age 75 or older, and nearly two-thirds are women. Older Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias than older White Americans. There are three stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and seeing your loved one’s disease go through each is a traumatic experience. It is during this time that our care as a healthcare professional begins.

As a healthcare professional, you’ll have all the resources at hand to provide to families who have to go through the process of seeing their loved ones lose their memory. It becomes harder for families to connect with an Alzheimer’s patient, as the patient may not register their faces in their mind at all, forgetting their names and misplacing their identity.

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, you’ll help families identify the symptoms and tell them what to expect when the disease will progress into the later stages, going from mild to severe.

Overview of the three stages of Alzheimer’s disease

Mild Alzheimer’s disease

Mild Alzheimer’s disease spreads through the neurons in an individual’s brain, affecting the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus. They begin to confuse the names of people and start to forget things easily. The following are some signs you need to educate families about:

  • Forgetting things
  • Not knowing the names of places they frequently visit
  • Getting lost on their way to sites they often visit
  • Difficulty in completing ordinary and everyday chores
  • Inability to handle paying bills and money
  • Making poor judgments about things
  • Lethargy and unwillingness to do something
  • Sudden changes in the mood, going from anxious to anger

Even though the person can look as if they are healthy, they will not be, as they will be unable to make sense of things around them. Unfortunately due to normal appearances diagnosis and treatment can be delayed.

Moderate Alzheimer’s disease

Moderate Alzheimer’s disease spreads through an individual’s cerebral cortex, affecting their speech pattern, the power of reasoning, conscious thinking, and sensory processing.

Here are the signs you need to educate families about:

  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Short attention span
  • Sudden outbursts of anger
  • Unable to register the names and faces of friends and family
  • Unable to comprehend language and losing the ability to read, write, and work with numbers
  • Unable to think logically or rationally
  • Unable to learn new things
  • Not knowing how to react in unexpected situations
  • Agitation, restlessness, and anxiety
  • Repeating the same thing or doing the same thing more than once
  • Hallucinating
  • Loss of impulse control
  • Unable to dress or do any other tasks
  • Lack of bowel and bladder control
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as becoming restless at night (Sundowner’s Syndrome)
  • Tendency to wander

At this point, you’ll inform loved ones that there is a high probability that the person with Alzheimer’s disease will lash out in anger, as they will be struggling to recognize people or do normal things they used to do so efficiently before.

Severe Alzheimer’s disease

Severe Alzheimer’s disease has spread to every part of the brain. The patient will not be able to communicate or recognize family members at all. Some signs you need to educate families about include:

  • Experiencing severe weight loss
  • Being prone to infections such as urinary tract infections, pressure ulcers, and pneumonia
  • Having seizures
  • Being unable to swallow
  • Sleeping more
  • Making moaning and grunting sounds

Related courses

To learn more, check out the following CE courses from Elite Learning:

To gain continuing education credit or to explore more courses on Alzheimer’s Disease, visit our website.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on June 27, 2018 and updated on November 10, 2021.