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How Quickly Can Alzheimer’s Disease Progress

Could It Be Rapidly Progressive Dementia

Understand Alzheimer’s Disease in 3 Minutes

RPD can be difficult to diagnose. However, accurately diagnosing these conditions is critical in order to identify any treatable causes and protect against further brain cell damage. An early hospital assessment by a specialist can help pick up problems so that, where available, appropriate treatment can be initiated. Cancers, infections, toxins and autoimmune conditions could all cause a fast decline in mental function, as well as the more common neurodegenerative causes of dementia such as Alzheimers, strokes and Parkinsons disease.

Why Is Dementia Progressive

Dementia is not a single condition. It is caused by different physical diseases of the brain, for example Alzheimers disease, vascular dementia, DLB and FTD.

In the early stage of all types of dementia only a small part of the brain is damaged. In this stage, a person has fewer symptoms as only the abilities that depend on the damaged part of the brain are affected. These early symptoms are usually relatively minor. This is why mild dementia is used as an alternative term for the early stage.

Each type of dementia affects a different area of the brain in the early stages. This is why symptoms vary between the different types. For example, memory loss is common in early-stage Alzheimers but is very uncommon in early-stage FTD. As dementia progresses into the middle and later stages, the symptoms of the different dementia types tend to become more similar. This is because more of the brain is affected as dementia progresses.

Over time, the disease causing the dementia spreads to other parts of the brain. This leads to more symptoms because more of the brain is unable to work properly. At the same time, already-damaged areas of the brain become even more affected, causing symptoms the person already has to get worse. Eventually most parts of the brain are badly damaged by the disease. This causes major changes in all aspects of memory, thinking, language, emotions and behaviour, as well as physical problems.

Understanding The Progression Of Alzheimers Disease

Watching a loved one struggle with Alzheimers disease can be challenging. There is no way to predict how quickly or slowly the disease will progress or exactly how it will affect someones cognitive abilities. There is no way to prevent Alzheimers, and there is currently no cure, so one of the best things you can do is educate yourself on how the disease progresses in order to better support your loved one and their needs.

The Alzheimers Association estimates that more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimers disease, and this number will only continue to grow. Although it is most prevalent in people aged 65 and older, there have been cases of people in their 30s or 40s with the disease. It is a progressive condition that is typically broken down into four stages:

  • Preclinical StageThe brain can begin developing signs of Alzheimers disease long before any symptoms are noticeable. The only way you would know if a loved one was in this stage was if they had a brain imaging scan. This stage can last for years before symptoms progress.
  • Early Stage Seniors with early-stage Alzheimers continue to live independently and do many of their normal tasks. They can often still work, drive, and make decisions for themselves. However, you may notice that they have some mild cognitive decline that could include:
  • Recommended Reading: Purple Ribbon Alzheimers

    Assessing Your Mental Abilities

    A specialist will usually assess your mental abilities using a special series of questions.

    One widely used test is the mini mental state examination . This involves being asked to carry out activities such as memorising a short list of objects correctly and identifying the current day of the week, month and year. Different memory clinics may also use other, longer tests.

    The MMSE isn’t used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s useful to initially assess areas of difficulty that a person with the condition may have. This helps specialists to make decisions about treatment and whether more tests are necessary.

    What Is The Average Rapid Onset Dementia Life Expectancy

    What are the Different Stages of Alzheimer

    Dementia is known for its gradual onset and slow progression. However, the condition does result in a reduced life expectancy. The average rapid onset dementia life expectancy ranges from 3 to 13 years after the onset or diagnosis. However, dementia suffers with rapid onset dementia may deteriorate much faster. Individuals with rapidly progressive dementia have an average life expectancy of 4 to 18 months after the time of diagnosis. To make this time as comfortable as possible for your loved one and to improve their quality of life, choosing an in-home care agency that offers special services for dementia can be highly beneficial.

    Recommended Reading: What Color Ribbon Is Alzheimer’s

    Understanding Lewy Body Dementia

    Lewy body dementia consists of two different conditions: dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia. The two share many of the same symptoms and may often be considered to be the same.

    However, one significant factor in how Lewy body dementia progresses is related to which disease is actually present. In Parkinson’s disease dementia, the physical challenges are usually evident first, while in dementia with Lewy bodies, cognitive changes may appear earlier than, about the same time, or shortly after, the physical changes develop.

    Stage : Mild Cognitive Impairment Due To Alzheimers Disease

    Although senior moments are common occurrences for most older adults, an individual with MCI will experience them at a slightly higher rate. MCI will cause an individual to forget things like familiar words, where they placed something or a family members name. They may have difficulty accurately judging the sequence, number of steps or the time required to complete a task. It becomes more difficult for them to make sound decisions.

    Memory troubles are still mild enough that they may not be apparent to the individuals family and friends. Additionally, symptoms at this stage typically dont cause problems at work or in relationships.

    Not everyone who has MCI has Alzheimers disease. Based on a review of symptoms, a medical professional can diagnose MCI. The same procedures used to diagnose preclinical Alzheimers disease can be used to determine if the MCI is caused by Alzheimers disease or something else.

    Also Check: Does Prevagen Work For Dementia

    When To See A Gp

    If you’re worried about your memory or think you may have dementia, it’s a good idea to see a GP.

    If you’re worried about someone else’s memory problems, encourage them to make an appointment and perhaps suggest that you go along with them.

    Memory problems are not just caused by dementia they can also be caused by depression, stress, medicines or other health problems.

    A GP can carry out some simple checks to try to find out what the cause may be, and they can refer you to a specialist for more tests if necessary.

    Read more about diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease.

    Page last reviewed: 05 July 2021 Next review due: 05 July 2024

    Eat A Mediterranean Diet

    Alzheimer’s Disease: How it Progresses

    A recent study showed that full or even partial adherence to the Mediterranean diet can help promote brain health. The Mediterranean diet includes fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, legumes and fish. You can also eat moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, and dairy, and drink moderate amounts of red wine. Red meat should be eaten only sparingly.

    Read Also: Purple Ribbon Alzheimer’s

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    Stage : Moderate Dementia Due To Alzheimers Disease

    Its at this stage, which lasts about two years, that Alzheimers disease is much more diagnosable. Symptoms experienced in stage three become much more pronounced. The individual becomes increasingly more forgetful and confused, requiring assistance with self-care and activities of daily living . Mood changes are much more obvious. They also frequently experience a decreased emotional response, especially in challenging situations.

    Individuals with moderate dementia may:

    All the difficulties they begin to face as they move into moderate dementia make it unsafe for them to continue to live on their own. For their own safety and that of others, they eventually require constant supervision. Counseling can be helpful for them and those that care for them as they progress through stage four.

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    The Long And Short Of Alzheimer’s Survival

    Larson’s team found that several factors predict Alzheimer’s-disease survival:

    • Women with Alzheimer’s disease live longer than men with Alzheimer’s disease.
    • Unsteadiness in walking predicts shorter survival.
    • Wandering behavior predicts shorter survival.
    • Involuntary loss of urine predicts shorter survival.
    • A poor score on tests of mental status predicts shorter survival.
    • A rapid mental decline in the first year after diagnosis predicts shorter survival.
    • Pre-existing heart disease or diabetes predicts shorter survival.

    The researchers calculated the average number of years of life remaining to people when first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. For each age, this is the number of years after which 50% of people remain alive. Compared with women and men without Alzheimer’s disease:

    For women:

    • After age 70, half of U.S. women live 15.7 more years. Half of women with Alzheimer’s disease live 8.0 more years.
    • After age 75, half of U.S. women live 11.9 more years. Half of women with Alzheimer’s disease live 5.8 more years.
    • After age 80, half of U.S. women live 8.6 more years. Half of women with Alzheimer’s disease live 5.3 more years.
    • After age 85, half of U.S. women live 5.9 more years. Half of women with Alzheimer’s disease live 3.9 more years.
    • After age 90, half of U.S. women live 3.9 more years. Half of women with Alzheimer’s disease live 2.1 more years.

    For men:

    Symptoms Of Mild Cognitive Impairment

    How Fast Does Alzheimer

    Some people have a condition called mild cognitive impairment, or MCI. It can be an early sign of Alzheimers. But, not everyone with MCI will develop Alzheimers disease. People with MCI can still take care of themselves and do their normal activities. MCI memory problems may include:

    • Losing things often
    • Forgetting to go to events or appointments
    • Having more trouble coming up with words than other people the same age

    Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease from MedlinePlus.

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    Stage : Very Mild Decline

    The senior may notice minor memory problems or lose things around the house, although not to the point where the memory loss can easily be distinguished from normal age-related memory loss. The person will still do well on memory tests and the disease is unlikely to be detected by loved ones or physicians.

    Frontotemporal Dementia: Early Symptoms Vary

    In contrast to Alzheimers, people at the early stages of frontotemporal disorders generally dont have trouble with short-term memory. But depending on the type of frontotemporal issue, early symptoms may vary.

    For the type of frontotemporal disorder that initially affects the part of the brain that controls behavior, people may behave rudely or appear oblivious to social norms, seem easily distracted, or appear uncharacteristically selfish or unfeeling.

    For the less-common type of frontotemporal disorder that initially affects the part of the brain that controls language skills, the early stage includes trouble attaching names to things, comprehending words, or speaking fluently.

    But as dementia becomes progressively worse, people who are experiencing behavior changes will begin having language difficulty, and vice versa.

    As frontotemporal disorders progress, symptoms will begin to resemble those of Alzheimers, though agitation and aggression generally develop before short-term memory loss and other symptoms of later-stage Alzheimers, such as trouble judging distance and difficulty seeing objects in three dimensions.

    On average people with frontotemporal disorders live for six to eight years after the onset of symptoms.

    Also Check: Does Meredith Grey Have Alzheimer’s

    What Are The Symptoms Of Early

    For most people with early-onset Alzheimer disease, the symptoms closely mirror those of other forms of Alzheimer disease.

    Early symptoms:

    • Withdrawal from work and social situations

    • Changes in mood and personality

    Later symptoms:

    • Severe mood swings and behavior changes

    • Deepening confusion about time, place, and life events

    • Suspicions about friends, family, or caregivers

    • Trouble speaking, swallowing, or walking

    • Severe memory loss

    Stage : Very Mild Changes

    Dementia 101 in 101 Seconds

    You still might not notice anything amiss in your loved one’s behavior, but they may be picking up on small differences, things that even a doctor doesn’t catch. This could include forgetting words or misplacing objects.

    At this stage, subtle symptoms of Alzheimer’s don’t interfere with their ability to work or live independently.

    Keep in mind that these symptoms might not be Alzheimer’s at all, but simply normal changes from aging.

    Read Also: Dementia Awareness Ribbon

    Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Precursor To Dementia

    Many people experience a certain amount of normal cognitive decline as they age needing extra time to connect a persons name with their face, say, or to recall a computer password.

    Mild cognitive impairment is more significant than that, involving lapses in memory, language, thinking, and judgment that are noticeable to the person and perhaps his or her own family and close friends yet not serious enough to interfere with everyday life.

    About 15 to 20 percent of people age 65 or older are estimated to have mild cognitive impairment.

    Researchers believe that mild cognitive impairment may be a precursor to dementia. A meta-analysis of 41 studies, cited by the Alzheimers Association, found that among people with MCI who were tracked for five years or longer, an average of 38 percent developed dementia.

    Yet some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few actually get better. Researchers are working to understand why.

    Signs of mild cognitive impairment may include:

    • Forgetting things or important events
    • Losing your train of thought or the thread of a conversation, book, or movie
    • Having trouble making your way around a familiar place
    • Becoming more impulsive or showing poor judgment
    • Depression

    Related:11 Early Signs of Dementia

    Alzheimer’s Patients And Caregivers

    Kenneth E. Covinsky, MD, MPH, says the new findings will help health care workers understand the need to support people taking care of loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Covinsky is staff physician at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. His editorial accompanies the Larson study.

    “While life expectancy is reduced, it is also not true that the average Alzheimer’s patient is close to death,” Covinsky tells WebMD. “There is going to be a fairly lengthy period where there will be important needs to be thought of both for the patient and for the caregiver. We know these needs will persist over a fairly lengthy period of time.”

    While Alzheimer’s disease can’t be cured, palliative care can greatly improve quality of life for both patients and caregivers. Providing that care will be a challenge — not only for individual families, but also for society.

    “For older patients, palliative care needs to start well before someone is ready for hospice,” Covinsky says. “Part of the issue is recognizing those needs better. But another part is that those services — caregiver support groups, for example, or home health aid — are hard to get. This is the kind of stuff not covered by most insurance plans.”

    Also Check: Senility Vs Alzheimer’s

    Planning For The Alzheimer’s Future

    For Larson, the many issues surrounding the care of a person with Alzheimer’s disease are personal as well as professional.

    “When I started to see my father declining, it took a long time for my family to get comfortable with that,” he says. “The nice thing with this study is that everyone in it was within a year of diagnosis. This was like the real world. Now the family can say, ‘This is what is ahead. Let’s face it like anything else in life.'”

    People with Alzheimer’s disease, Larson found, have about half the life expectancy of a same-age person without Alzheimer’s. Even so, many people with the disease have lots of life ahead of them.

    “A fairly large number of people with Alzheimer’s disease are going to live a long time,” Larson says. “For example, one in four women diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease will live for 10 more years. That is a lot of years of care to plan for.”

    Practical Tips For People With Alzheimer’s


    If you have Alzheimer’s disease, you may find it useful to:

    • keep a diary and write down things you want to remember
    • pin a weekly timetable to the wall
    • put your keys in an obvious place, such as in a large bowl in your living room
    • have a daily newspaper delivered to remind you of the day and date
    • put labels on cupboards and drawers
    • keep useful telephone numbers by the phone
    • write yourself reminders for example, put a note on the front door to remind you to take your keys with you if you go out
    • programme people’s names and numbers into your telephone
    • set the alarm on your watch to act as a reminder
    • install safety devices such as gas detectors and smoke alarms throughout your home

    It may also be helpful to get in touch with a local or national Alzheimer’s or dementia support group, such as the Alzheimer’s Society, for more information and advice about living with Alzheimer’s disease.

    Read more about living well with dementia

    Read Also: What Is The Difference Between Dementia And Senility

    Preclinical Alzheimers Or No Impairment

    You may only know about your risk for Alzheimers disease due to family history. Or your doctor may identify biomarkers that indicate your risk.

    Your doctor will interview you about memory problems, if youre at risk for Alzheimers. But there will be no noticeable symptoms during the first stage, which can last for years or decades.

    Caregiver support: Someone in this stage is fully independent. They may not even know they have the disease.


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