The word ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving, language and other cognitive impairments. The Alzheimer’s Society have explained that these changes are often small to start with, but for someone with dementia they have become severe enough to affect daily life.
Most people understand what dementia is and how it may affect someones life but very few realise that there are actually different stages to this disease. Dementia has distinct stages that shape treatment and impact on health in different ways. According to experts, there are 7 stages of dementia with three distinct categories (early, moderate and advanced). No staging system is perfect, and the stages often overlap. Symptoms may appear at certain stages, then resolve, while others may get progressively worse.
Dementia may sometimes begin with a mild decline in cognitive function. For example, a person may forget a recent conversation or the name of a familiar object. We may all have problems with memory from time to time, and these are not necessarily an indication that one is developing dementia. Dementia goes beyond this. There may, however, be possible early warning signs of dementia, particularly in the elderly, and should be investigated by a healthcare practitioner who is experienced in this field. Some of the early symptoms may include being unable to perform tasks that were familiar, such as paying bills or following a recipe or personality changes. If someone is in the early stages of dementia, they may even realize that something is not right themselves. However, the topic of dementia is a very emotional one and many may choose to hide their symptoms and live in denial.
As dementia progresses, symptoms become harder to hide and more noticeable symptoms may develop. In this middle stage of dementia, which in most cases is the longest stage of the disease, brain damage is extensive enough that a person has trouble expressing their thoughts, performing daily tasks, and has more severe memory issues than in the earlier stage. Some of the common symptoms during the moderate stage include wandering and sometimes being lost, behaving inappropriately, becoming very repetitive, being neglectful of personal hygiene, forgetting to eat etc.
This might be the most difficult stage of dementia to cope with as a family member because it means watching the one you love slowly decline even further. At this point communication can be lost, verbally and or physically. They might not be able to express themselves and simple tasks will need to be completed by an aid, nurse, family member or friend. Those people who are developing more advanced levels of dementia, and are losing their independence, require an increasingly high level of dementia care. People with severe dementia are vulnerable to infections, including pneumonia, and they may be unable to move around. This is when many families seek full time nursing support for their loved one or start to consider a dedicated care facility, such as one of the Livewell Villages, which have been at the forefront of dementia care since they were established in 2011.
Given the fact that the underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to dementia symptoms can often be treated, and the progression of dementia symptoms may be delayed with appropriate therapies, it is important for the syndrome to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Many types of dementia are progressive, meaning symptoms start out slowly and gradually get worse.
If you or a loved one is experiencing memory difficulties or other changes in thinking skills, don’t ignore them. See a doctor soon to determine the cause. Professional evaluation may detect a treatable condition. And even if symptoms suggest dementia, early diagnosis allows a person to get the maximum benefit from available treatments and it also provides time to plan for the future.
Understand more about some of the most commonly diagnosed forms of dementia here.