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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative illness that starts with memory loss and progresses to complete loss of awareness and bodily functions, and death. The disease features a build-up of amyloids or plaques in the brain. An estimated 36 million people have Alzheimer’s worldwide (2010).

The disease can be divided into several stages. A staging system is a useful way of gaining a broad understanding of the usual symptoms at each stage and as a way of grouping the symptoms. However, the stages are only a guide. Each person is different and may show signs of more than one stage at a time.

Alzheimer’s is a natural progression. The stages overlap, and a person doesn’t suddenly jump from one stage to the next. Progression through the stages varies too, from about four years to twenty years, although a person typically lives seven to ten years after diagnosis. All stages involve a progressive cognitive and functional decline.

Three stages are often used in Alzheimer’s: early, mid and late; or mild, moderate and severe. An initial very mild or pre-dementia stage is sometime added to this system, and a moderately severe stage between the moderate and severe stages. The other commonly used staging system in Alzheimer’s has seven stages, as used by the Alzheimer’s Association: no impairment, very mild decline, mild decline, moderate decline, moderately severe decline, severe decline and very severe decline. The “no impairment” stage, where a person shows no signs of memory loss, isn’t included in the three or four stage system.

I have used a four stage system: very mild, mild, moderate and severe. My next four articles will cover these stages.

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