What to Expect in the Late Stages of Alzheimer's Disease

Some of the Brain Changes as Alzheimer's Progresses to the Late Stages
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In the earlier stages of Alzheimer's, the disease affects cognitive processes (e.g., thinking, memory, orientation, judgment) and behavior more than physical functioning. However, in late-stage Alzheimer's, the disease begins to considerably affect parts of the brain that control bodily systems, such as motor coordination, bowel and bladder function, and even breathing. The late stage of Alzheimer's usually requires rigorous, around-the-clock care, and it can last from several weeks to several years.

The symptoms of late-stage Alzheimer's disease often include:

  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Difficulty walking and moving, eventually resulting in the person becoming chair-bound or bed-bound
  • Loss of the ability to communicate through words
  • Difficulty swallowing and eating
  • Total incontinence of bowel and bladder, requiring full-time assistance with toileting and hygiene
  • Eventual inability to sit up or hold up one's head
  • Loss of facial expressions, including the ability to smile

Individuals with Alzheimer's disease often die of a medical complication, such as pneumonia or the flu. However, Alzheimer's itself can be fatal; even if there are no other complications, these late-stage symptoms can lead to death when patients can no longer be fed or breathe safely.


Alzheimer's Association (2005). Late-stage care: Providing care and comfort during the late stage of Alzheimer's disease. Chicago, IL: Author.

Reisberg, B. (1988). Functional assessment staging (FAST). Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 24, 653-659.

Tonarelli, L. (2005, March/April). The stages of Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's Care Guide, 4-10.

Edited by Esther Heerema, MSW

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