Caring for a Person with Alzheimer's Disease: Your Easy-to-Use Guide from the National Institute on Aging

Understanding AD

older woman reading a book

Sometimes, you may feel that you don't know how to care for the person with AD. You're not alone. Each day may bring different challenges. Learning about AD can help you understand and cope with these challenges. Below, we discuss the stages of AD and tell you how to learn more about the illness.

Stages of AD and What They Mean

Alzheimer's disease consists of three main stages: mild (sometimes called early-stage), moderate, and severe (sometimes called late-stage). Understanding these stages can help you plan ahead. You will find information about coping with behavior problems often seen in each stage of AD in Challenge: changes in personality and behavior.

Mild Alzheimer's disease. In mild AD, the first stage, people often have some memory loss and small changes in their personality. They may forget recent events or the names of familiar people or things. They may no longer be able to solve math problems or balance a checkbook. People with mild AD also slowly lose the ability to plan and organize. For example, they may have trouble making a grocery list and finding items in the store.

elderly coupleModerate Alzheimer's disease. This is the middle stage of AD. Memory loss and confusion become more obvious. People have more trouble organizing, planning, and following instructions. They may need help getting dressed (PDF, 176K) and may start having problems with incontinence. This means they can't control their bladder and/or bowels. People with moderate-stage AD may have trouble recognizing family members and friends. They may not know where they are or what day or year it is. They also may lack judgment and begin to wander, so people with moderate AD should not be left alone. They may become restless and begin repeating movements late in the day. Also, they may have trouble sleeping. Personality changes (PDF, 978K) can become more serious. People with moderate AD may make threats, accuse others of stealing, curse, kick, hit, bite, scream, or grab things.

Severe Alzheimer's disease. This is the last stage of Alzheimer's and ends in the death of the person. Severe AD is sometimes called late-stage AD. In this stage, people often need help with all their daily needs. They may not be able to walk or sit up without help. They may not be able to talk and often cannot recognize family members. They may have trouble swallowing and refuse to eat.

How to Learn More About AD

Here are some ways to help you learn more about AD:

  • Talk with a doctor or other health care provider about AD. Ask your doctor to refer you to someone who specializes in AD.
  • Ask your doctor or AD specialist about good sources of information.
  • Check out books, CDs, DVDs, or videos on AD from the library.
  • Go to educational programs and workshops on AD.
  • Visit websites on AD such as www.alzheimers.gov, www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers, or www.alz.org. Use search engines to find more information.
  • Talk about AD with friends and family to get advice and support.
  • Try to find a support group for caregivers. You want a group in which the caregivers are taking care of someone who is in the same stage of AD as the person you are caring for. Also, you may be able to find an Internet-based support group. This is helpful for some caregivers, because it means they don't have to leave home to be a part of the group. The Alzheimer's Association (www.alz.org) is a good resource to help find support groups.

Publication Date: July 2012
Page Last Updated: September 18, 2014