THE PROGRESSION OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) results in progressive changes to the brain, cognitive function, and eventually to everyday activities.1

Stages of AD

AD is a slowly progressing, irreversible neurodegenerative brain disease with a long preclinical phase (up to 20
years) and an average clinical duration of 8 to 10 years. The progression of AD is accompanied by changes to the
brain that serve as biomarkers of the disease.1,2

Disease progression typically spans several stages. These stages include preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) due to Alzheimer’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease dementia varying from mild to severe.1

The Accelerating Decline of Cognitive Function
in Alzheimer's Disease1,3-5

Click to learn more about a stage.

X and Y-axis in a hypothetical model that represents the decline in cognitive function
Gray line representing normal cognitive aging in a hypothetical model
Graph representing the decline in cognitive function in a hypothetical model
Legend of the contributing factors of decline in cognitive function in a hypothetical model Plus sign inside a red-filled circle, representing expanding a window for information about the progression of Alzheimer's disease stages Plus sign inside a circle that when clicked reveals information about a stage in AD progression Plus sign inside a circle that when clicked reveals information about a stage in AD progression Plus sign inside a red-filled circle, representing expanding a window for information about the progression of Alzheimer's disease stages Plus sign inside a circle that when clicked reveals information about a stage in AD progression Plus sign inside a red-filled circle, representing expanding a window for information about the progression of Alzheimer's disease stages Plus sign inside a circle that when clicked reveals information about a stage in AD progression Plus sign inside a red-filled circle, representing expanding a window for information about the progression of Alzheimer's disease stages

Normal Cognitive Aging

Alzheimer's disease symptoms often start subtly. People with early-stage AD (and their families) may mistake the early signs for normal aging and put off going to the doctor.1

Preclinical AD

Preclinical AD occurs in individuals with evidence of AD pathology who have no clinical symptoms.6

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)

MCI due to AD presents evidence of AD pathology along with impairment in 1 or more cognitive domains that does not interfere with daily functioning.6

Dementia

Mild AD dementia, moderate AD dementia, and severe AD dementia are when cognitive abilities further decline and cause impairment in functional abilities.7

This figure is based on a model.
Adapted from Sperling RA, Aisen PS, Beckett LA, et al. Toward defining the preclinical stages of Alzheimer’s disease: recommendations from the National Institute on Aging–Alzheimer’s Association workgroups on diagnostic guidelines for Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2011;7(3):280-292, with permission from John Wiley and Sons.

Normal aging vs Alzheimer’s disease

The differences between normal aging and MCI due to AD can be subtle. Individuals with MCI due to AD may have difficulty learning new information or their recall may be significantly impaired.1,7

Examples of MCI due to AD concerns include8:

  • Increased forgetfulness about appointments or events
  • Lack of focus
  • Trouble with decision-making
  • Problems planning or understanding instructions
  • Confusion regarding time or place
  • Poor judgment

icon-book Journal Feature

Learn more about the opportunity to detect Alzheimer’s disease at its earliest recognizable clinical
stage and criteria that can aid in diagnosis.

Read: Petersen RC. Mild cognitive impairment. Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2016;22(2):404-418.

Read: Petersen RC. Mild cognitive impairment. Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2016;22(2):404-418.

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