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How does Alzheimer's disease progress?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition, meaning symptoms will get worse over time. A person gradually loses the ability to reason, remember, communicate and do everyday things.

The progression of Alzheimer's disease is often divided into a series of stages. These stages are commonly described as early, middle and late stage dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Everyone is unique and will experience dementia in their own way. All types of dementia cause damage to the chemistry and structure of the brain.

Understanding how the disease progresses can help you and someone you care for know what to expect and plan ahead.

These stages serve only as a general guide. No two people will experience the disease in the same way. Not everyone will experience all the symptoms in these stages or in a particular order.

The rate of progression of Alzheimer's disease is different for everyone. People with Alzheimer's disease can live anywhere between 3 to 20 years. On average most people tend to live 7 to 10 years after diagnosis (Alzheimer's Australia, 2008).

A person's ability can change quickly or slowly over a number of years. Symptoms of dementia can also be made worse by other significant health conditions. Symptoms can come and go or overlap.

Other types of dementia will follow a similar progression but symptoms can vary. Personality changes may be more obvious in the early stages of fronto-temporal lobe dementia. A person with Dementia with Lewy bodies can have hallucinations, disturbed sleep patterns and motor changes as seen in Parkinson's disease.

Symptoms can also fluctuate. Symptoms of vascular dementia can be subtle or a person can have an abrupt decline in abilities. Sometimes people can have both vascular and Alzheimer’s disease and symptoms will be difficult to distinguish. 


Helpful resources

  • For more information about dementia and Alzheimer's disease visit Alzheimer's Australia
  • The National Dementia Helpline is a free service for people with dementia, their carers and family 1800 100 500.


Related articles


Alzheimer's Society UK
The progression of dementia
Accessed 2008