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What to Know About the Stages of Dementia  (2)Today, 1 in 3 older adults has dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. To think your loved one might be one of those statistics can be terrifying, and the scariest part is often the unknown. What can you expect? How can you help? It’s never easy, but educating yourself on what may lie ahead can be helpful, and preparing as best as possible can be empowering. To start, here’s what you should know about the stages of dementia. 

Dementia defined 

Dementia is not a disease in and of itself; instead, it is a term used to describe symptoms that affect thinking, memory, and behavior. Most people believe Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are the same thing. However, Alzheimer’s is actually only one type of dementia, although it is the most prevalent type, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases as reported by the CDC. Other types of dementia include the following: 

  • Vascular dementia 
  • Lewy body dementia 
  • Frontotemporal dementia 
  • Hydrocephalus 
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease 
  • Huntington’s disease 
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome 

There are a range of conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia. While many dementias are permanent, starting slowly and progressing over time, some can be reversed, such as those caused by thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies, making early diagnosis vital. 

Download our Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing the Early Signs of Dementia.

Stages of dementia 

Every dementia is different and progresses according to its own timeline. Even two people with  

the same diagnosis may experience different symptoms. In many cases, different outcomes  

result from a person’s underlying health. For example, Alzheimer’s could contribute to life  

expectancy differently for a person who has other health concerns.  

Symptoms are subtle at first and may worsen as the disease progresses. This can make the disease more challenging to identify until the symptoms start to interfere with a person’s everyday life and responsibilities.  

Generally, there are three stages of dementia: 

  • Early-stage – This is when a person starts to experience symptoms, but they may be hard to notice at first. A person at this stage is still mostly independent but repeats questions or comments (often within the same conversations), misplaces objects, may avoid activities, has mood changes, and has difficulty understanding and recalling new information.  
  • Middle-stage – More noticeable symptoms occur at this stage, and it often becomes harder to perform daily tasks without support. You’ll notice greater difficulty communicating in social situations, increased irritability, more withdrawal from regular activities, more frequent memory issues, disorientation even in familiar environments, difficulty with judgment, lack of awareness of time, and personality or behavioral changes. 
  • Late-stage – In this stage of dementia, care is typically needed 24/7, and your loved one will have difficulty recognizing familiar people and/or family; they will spend much time sleeping, will lose motor skills and sense of touch, and need help bathing and toileting. 

The progressive nature of dementia doesn’t necessarily mean that every day is worse, however.  

People with dementia may have good days and bad days. Some also experience an effect called  

sundowning. Late in the day, symptoms may worsen because of exhaustion, low light, disruptions to the body’s internal clock, and similar factors. 

Caring for a loved one with dementia 

In the early stages of dementia, your loved one can likely remain at home with support from friends and family members and/or an in-home aide. Keep in mind that in-home aides can be expensive and may not be covered by Medicare.  

When dementia progresses to the later stages and your loved one needs care outside the home, assisted living and memory care are two types of senior living that can offer support.  

  • Assisted living provides housing and support with activities of daily living such as medication management, bathing, and dressing. Communities offer onsite medical care, emergency call systems, wellness programs, a calendar of social activities, three daily meals, and transportation. 
  • Memory care is designed to nurture those with dementia with specifically trained staff and individualized support. You’ll find 24-hour supervision and an environment that is easy to navigate, is secure and may also use soothing colors and lighting. Plus, memory care communities enhance quality of life through therapy, structured activities, social opportunities, and even dining options designed to improve nutrition and independence. 

To learn more about the stages of dementia, download our Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing the Early Signs of Dementia today!

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Written by All American