Dementia is not a condition in its own right but a term that refers to a variety of symptoms and diseases that affect processes such as memory and brain function. This includes a condition known as Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia. The risk of developing dementia increases as you age but it can strike at any time, although it is far more common in older people. There are also different stages of dementia, and it is well worth familiarizing yourself with these.
When someone suffers from dementia, it affects not only the person themselves but also their loved ones who have to learn to live with someone who has these symptoms. This can be very difficult and challenging, which is why it is also important for close family members and friends of sufferers to learn about the different stages of dementia.
Over recent years, we have learned far more about dementia and its impact on sufferers as well as on the families of dementia patients. This has made it possible for people to access more information, resources, and services to help when it comes to living with dementia. In this article, we will take a closer look at what dementia is and the different stages.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term that describes a set of symptoms associated with conditions and diseases affecting functions such as the brain and memory. Dementia is, therefore, not a disease in itself but a syndrome. A number of different conditions and diseases can result in dementia, but the most common one is Alzheimer’s disease.
It is also worth noting that there are different variations of dementia and people can suffer from multiple types, which is referred to as mixed dementia. This is a syndrome that can have a huge effect on day-to-day life for the sufferer and can impact on everything from memory and reasoning through to independence and even hygiene.
Who Is Affected By Dementia?
Dementia generally tends to affect people as they get older, with Alzheimer’s disease being one of the most common causes of these symptoms. However, while it is much more common in elderly people, it can also affect younger people. Dementia can affect those that have other conditions apart from Alzheimer’s disease. This includes conditions such as Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease. Each of these conditions has a negative impact on a different section of the brain. Other people at risk of dementia are those that suffer from vascular disease, HIV, depression, stroke, or serious drug addiction.
The Different Stages Of Dementia
There are different stages of dementia, and these refer to the progression of the symptoms. Dementia symptoms can start off very mild or barely noticeable but can progressively get worse depending on the cause. It is important for health professionals to know about the different stages of dementia as this then has an impact on the most appropriate treatment. Often, dementias different stages are simply described as mild, moderate, or severe. However, the stages of dementia can actually be broken down further in line with the symptoms being experienced by the person. So, let’s take a look at the dementias different stages:
The first of the stages of dementia is where there is a very mild decline in cognition. It may be quite difficult for others to pick up on this decline at first as the symptoms are very mild. Many will put it down to simple aging rather than signs of dementia. Some of the symptoms include becoming more forgetful, finding it a bit harder to focus, a slight decrease in performance and productivity, or struggling to find the right words when speaking with someone. Gradually, close friends and family do start to notice the difference even though this is one of dementias early stages. The average duration of this early stage is between two and seven years.
The second stage of dementia lasts for around two years on average. Although this is another of the earlier stages of dementia, sufferers will find it increasingly difficult to focus and concentrate. Memory will also begin to suffer more with some starting to forget things that happened recently. Other symptoms include a decreased level of independence, difficulties in financial management, and difficulties with more complex tasks. Some people become more withdrawn and isolated from those close to them at this stage, often denying the symptoms to themselves as well as to others. They find it more difficult to mix and socialize, and their cognitive issues become more noticeable to both family/friends and medical professionals.
During the third of the stages of dementia, sufferers will experience a moderate/severe decline in cognitive functioning. This is a mid-stage period of dementia. Memory problems will become far more evident, and sufferers will require more assistance when it comes to their daily activities. This could include getting dressed, washing and hygiene, making food, and other day-to-day tasks. In some cases, the problems with memory can become major resulting in some sufferers forgetting basic things such as where they live or their own telephone number. Some may even forget their location of what time of the day it is. On average, this stage lasts around one or two years.
When it comes to the stages of dementia, this stage is described as ‘middle dementia,’ and it is where people often experience a severe decline in cognitive functioning. During this stage, sufferers will require a lot more help when it comes to their day-to-day lives and activities. This is one of the stages of dementia where families often opt for full-time assistance, become dedicated full-time carers themselves, or even consider residential care for their loved one.
During this stage, people can begin forgetting things such as the names of close family members. Sufferers also tend to have more of a memory about things that happened much earlier in their lives than of recent events. Completion of any tasks, control of the bladder, and even speech can become very difficult during this stage of dementia. Some people will go through very noticeable changes when it comes to their emotions and personality. Additional problems may include being delusional, compulsive behavior, becoming easily agitated, and becoming more anxious. The average duration for this stage is around two to three years.
The last of the stages of dementia is the latter stage where there is a very severe decline in cognitive function. On average, this stage lasts for around two to three years. When people reach the last of the stages of dementia, they may find it almost impossible to speak and communicate effectively with others. They become reliant on others for assistance with basic needs such as using the toilet, dressing, washing, and eating. Some may also start to lose basic capabilities such as proper movement and being able to walk. Obviously, this is the latest of the stages of dementia, and the symptoms at this stage will be very serious and profound. It can be extremely difficult for loved ones to manage at this stage, which is why many seek professional assistance or consider residential care.
It is important to remember that the above stages of dementia are a guide to the different levels of cognitive decline those with dementia may experience. There are different scales that are used to describe the different stages of dementia. This includes scales such as the Clinical Dementia Rating, the Functional Assessment Staging Test, and the Global Deterioration Scale. This is why many simply use the terms ‘mild dementia’, ‘moderate dementia,’ and ‘severe dementia’ when describing the stages of dementia. The different stages of dementia all fit within these three main categories based on the severity of the symptoms.
As mentioned earlier, while dementia obviously has a devastating effect on the life of the sufferer, it also has a huge impact on close family members and friends. For some, looking after a loved one with dementia eventually means having to sacrifice a huge amount in terms of their own career, family, social life, and more. For some, it becomes necessary to take on the role of a full-time career as the symptoms become worse, and their loved one moves into the moderate or severe stages of dementia. This can be extremely challenging and distressing.
The good news is that there are now plenty of resources available to help those with dementia as well as those looking after someone with dementia. This includes everything from day centers and support groups through to daily assistance from professionals that come out to your home. Of course, there are residential facilities available as well for those that need around the clock care. If you are concerned about the welfare of someone close to you with dementia, it is well worth looking at the variety of services and resources available. This could provide both your loved one and you with the support and assistance you need, particularly during the later stages of dementia.