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What are the 7 Stages of Alzheimer's Disease?

By Dr. Harvey Gilbert, MD
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Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative condition marked by a progressive decline in cognitive functioning. This decline, often coupled with emotional apathy, affects the individual's behavior and mood. People sometimes mistake forgetfulness or absentmindedness in seniors for early signs of Alzheimer's, but some memory loss is actually considered a normal effect of aging.

You may have heard the terms early, mid- and late-stage Alzheimer's. These are general terms that were used until the development of a more detailed framework with seven separate stages which measure the disease progression. The system is known as the Functional Staging Assessment or FAST scale, developed by Barry Reisberg, MD, Clinical Director of New York University's Aging and Dementia Research Center. This article will examine the seven stages of Alzheimer's disease, distinguishing between the normal aging process and the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's.

What is normal during the aging process?

As we age, some memory loss is considered normal, especially if it is not progressive. Following are some examples. An aging senior who does not have Alzheimer's may:

  • Be concerned about memory loss but be able to provide significant detail regarding specific incidents of forgetfulness.
  • Have trouble finding the right word, but remember it later.
  • Forget the day of the week or where he or she is going, usually remembering later.
  • Need to pause to remember his or her way, even in familiar territory.
  • Misplace keys or a wallet temporarily.
  • Feel sad or moody occasionally, but be able to recover from it.
  • Avoid work or social obligations, but show no decline in interpersonal skills.