Ease uncertainty by understanding the stages of dementia
Experts say that changes in the brain start years before a person shows noticeable symptoms. When symptoms begin to affect everyday life and your older adult gets a proper diagnosis, 3 stages can be used as guidelines to help you plan for the future.
We explain the 3 stages of dementia, common symptoms in each stage, and why your older adult’s symptoms don’t always fit into these stages.
The 3 stages of dementia
In general, these stages apply to all forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. However, it’s essential to remember that someone with dementia may not always fit in a specific stage or go through every stage. The stages do have some overlap and the progression of dementia is different in each person.
In the early stage, a person with dementia might still be able to live independently. They might still be able to drive, work, and socialize.
However, they will probably be having memory lapses, like forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects. Other people may start to notice that the person is having difficulty or that something “seems off.”
In a thorough medical exam, doctors might be able to detect problems in memory or concentration.
Symptoms may include:
- Struggling to find the right word or name
- Finding it difficult to do everyday tasks in social or work settings
- Forgetting something that they just read
- Frequently losing or misplacing things
- Increasing trouble with planning or organizing
- Making decisions with uncharacteristically poor judgement
The middle stage of dementia is usually the longest and can last for many years. As the disease progresses, the person will need an increasing level of care.
In this stage, you might notice that they get words mixed up, are often frustrated or angry, or act in unexpected ways, like refusing to bathe. Damage in the brain can make it difficult to express themselves and do everyday things.
Symptoms may include:
- Forgetting things that happened recently or major events in their life
- Being moody or withdrawn, especially in social situations or when something requires too much thought
- Not being able remember significant things like their address, telephone number, high school, etc.
- Getting confused about where they are or what day it is
- Needing help choosing appropriate clothes for the season or occasion
- For some, trouble with incontinence
- Changing sleep patterns, like sleeping during the day and being restless at night
- An increased risk of wandering and getting lost
- Personality and behavior changes, including paranoia, delusions, and compulsive, repetitive behavior like hand-wringing
In the final stage of dementia, people progressively lose the ability to engage in the world, to hold conversations, and to control their muscles.
They may still be able to talk, but communicating and expressing thoughts becomes difficult – even for something basic like pain. Their memory and cognitive skills continue to get worse and you might see significant personality changes or the fading of personality altogether.
At this stage, people with dementia typically:
- Need 24/7 help with daily activities and personal care
- Have increasing difficulty communicating
- Lose awareness of recent experiences and their surroundings
- Gradually and progressively lose physical abilities, including the ability to walk, sit, and swallow
- Become more likely to develop infections, especially pneumonia
A person with dementia doesn’t always fit into one stage
Dementia affects each person differently and changes different parts of the brain at different times. Researchers and doctors still don’t know enough about how these diseases work to predict exactly what will happen.
Someone in the middle stages of dementia could suddenly have a great moment, hour, or day and seem like they’re back to their pre-dementia abilities. They could be sharp for a little while and later, go back to having obvious cognitive impairment.
When this happens, some caregivers may feel like their older adult is faking their symptoms or not trying hard enough. It’s important to know that this isn’t true, it’s truly the dementia that’s causing their declining abilities as well as those strange moments of clarity. They’re not doing it on purpose.
Knowing the stages of dementia helps you plan
Even if the stages aren’t exact and symptoms can be unpredictable, being able to plan ahead is essential.
The truth is that Alzheimer’s and dementia care is expensive and time-consuming. Being financially prepared for increasing care needs is a necessity.
On an emotional level, knowing what type of symptoms to expect helps you find ways to cope with challenging behaviors. It also gives you a chance to mentally prepare yourself for the inevitable changes in your older adult.
Recommended for you:
- 8 Ways to Deal with False Dementia Accusations
- 3 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Says I Want to Go Home
- 7 Ways to Reduce Dementia Sundowning Symptoms
By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Silver Century Foundation