Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5 million American adults, with a new case developing every 70 seconds. This disease is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. It has no known cure, but physicians are able to treat it in order to slow its progress. Understanding the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease is part of the process of learning how to cope with the disease.
Overview of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is classified into seven different stages. Of these, Stage 7 is considered the final stage of the disease. While these stages are helpful in understanding what may happen to an Alzheimer’s patient, each case is unique and the symptoms listed are in no way exhaustive or universal. Those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease usually live four to six years after diagnosis. However, the lifespan of the disease could be as short as 3 years to as long as 20 years. Due to these variables, it is helpful to understand the symptoms of the final stage of Alzheimer’s in order to prepare for it.
Final Stage of Alzheimer’s Disease
Stage 7 is considered to be severe or late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. It marks a drastic decline in cognitive ability and is the final stage of Alzheimer’s. At this point, a person with the disease has lost the capability to speak more than a few words at a time, to control their body and to respond to environmental stimuli. They may still be able to speak words, but coherence is virtually gone.
Those in Stage 7 of Alzheimer’s cannot do any of the most basic functions, such as eating and taking care of personal hygiene, without the assistance of a caretaker. They are no longer able to walk or sit without support; they cannot smile or hold their head up. As their body succumbs to the disease, their muscles lose flexibility and become rigid, including the muscles of the throat, which keeps them from being able to swallow. Recognition of family members and familiar acquaintances is very rare at this stage.
Primitive or infantile reflexes become apparent in Stage 7 of Alzheimer’s. These reflexes are present in babies but normally disappear by the time a child has reached toddler age. They include the grasping reflex, the sucking reflex and the Babinski reflex, which is the curling under of toes when a finger or blunt object is run down the sole of the foot.
Those in Stage 7 of Alzheimer’s disease usually do not live more than one year from its onset. Many patients do not die from Alzheimer’s disease, but from secondary issues such as infection–which their impaired immune system is more vulnerable to–or diseases like cancer, stroke and heart disease.