This progressive form of dementia typically starts with mild cognitive symptoms that tend to get worse over time. Knowing what to expect can help everyone involved prepare for the road ahead.

In the United States, an estimated 5.8 million people were living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2020. The condition typically affects adults over the age of 65, and the likelihood of developing it increases with age.

Alzheimer’s disease affects the parts of the brain that control memory, language, and thought processing, which can lead to memory loss, impair social skills, and affect self-care abilities. It’s a progressive form of dementia that tends to start with mild, seeming normal age-related cognitive symptoms that then typically worsen over time.

Early recognition of Alzheimer’s symptoms — and signs of progression — is important. It allows people with this condition, their healthcare team, and their loved ones more time to plan for the future and make any necessary arrangements for their care. Early intervention with lifestyle changes and (possibly) medications may also help slow or prevent the progression of disease.

The stages of Alzheimer’s disease progression are categorized into four major phases:

  • pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease
  • early-stage (mild) Alzheimer’s disease
  • middle-stage (moderate) Alzheimer’s disease
  • late-stage (severe) Alzheimer’s disease

Across these phases, Alzheimer’s disease can be further broken down into seven key stages. Each describes the biological and clinical effects of the disease, the extent to which memory and daily activities are affected, and how these changes may affect care.

If you or a loved one is living with Alzheimer’s disease or MCI, it’s important to discuss any changes that you notice in memory with the healthcare team. While some age-related memory changes are normal, early detection of Alzheimer’s disease offers the best opportunity to plan for future care.