Understanding Dementia can feel a little overwhelming. Is it a disease? What are the symptoms? How does it progress? This article will breakdown what is Dementia, what key signs to look out for and what the different stages can be.
Dementia is not a condition in its own right. It is the term that refers to a number of symptoms and diseases that affect memory and certain brain functions, which includes a Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia). You can read more on the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia in a previous article here.
The risk of dementia increases as you age but the reality is that it can affect younger people, although this is far less common.
There are also different stages of dementia and it is well worth familiarizing yourself with these. Dementia has a widespread affect as it places a huge amount of responsibility on the family and loved ones of the person diagnosed. This can present its challenges, but learning about the different types, and stages of dementia is the best way to prepare yourself for what’s to come.
Recently, the impact of dementia on patients, families and loved ones has been brought into focus, which means more information and care is available than ever before. Access to care services, accurate information and resources is much easier. So if you are dealing with a dementia diagnosis, or the diagnosis of a friend or loved one we have the different stages of dementia detailed below.
What is Dementia?
It is an umbrella term to describe the set of symptoms associated with conditions and diseases affecting functions such as the brain and memory. Dementia is not a disease, but a syndrome. There are a number of different conditions and diseases which result in dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease. There are different variations of dementia, with the ability to have multiple types at the same time (mixed dementia). The syndrome can have a large effect on day-to-day life for the sufferer and can impact:
- even hygiene.
Who is Affected by Dementia?
The syndrome tends to affect people over the age of 65, with Alzheimer’s disease being one of the most common causes. However, it can also affect younger people. Dementia can affect those with conditions such as Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease. Each of these conditions impacts a different section of the brain. Others at risk of dementia are those who have:
- vascular disease
- Suffered a stroke, or serious drug addiction.
Different Stages of Dementia
The different stages of dementia refer to the progression of the symptoms. Dementia symptoms can start off so mild they’re barely noticeable but, depending on the cause, can progressively get worse. Often, the stages of dementia are marked as mild, moderate, or severe. However, they can be broken down further in line with the symptoms experienced. The different stages can present themselves as follows:
The first stage of dementia is categorised by very mild decline, and can often be hard to spot as it can be thought of as simply ‘part of getting older’. Some symptoms include:
- Difficulty to focus
- Decrease in performance and productivity
- Struggling to find the right words when speaking.
Gradually, the differences in behaviour become clear that it is the early stages of dementia. The length of this stage varies massively from between 2 to 7 years.
The second stage of dementia tends to last, on average, around two years. While it is still one of the earlier stages of dementia, the ability to focus and concentrate becomes increasingly difficult. Loss in short term memory is a prominent factor to this stage, as sufferers will begin to forget things that happened recently. Other symptoms include:
- Reduced level of independence
- Financial management difficulty
- Reduction in the ability to complete more complex tasks.
Some people start to withdraw and become more isolated from those closest to them. It can also manifest itself in a complete denial of the behaviour. It becomes more difficult for them to socialise as their cognitive issues become more noticeable to those around them.
At this stage dementia moves over to the moderate to severe side of things. It is a mid-stage to dementia as memory loss becomes clearer. This is a point where those with dementia will become more dependant on other and will need more assistance. Daily activities will become difficult, such as:
- Getting washed and dressed
- Making food
- General household and personal hygiene.
In some cases, basic information starts to get lost, such as where they live, what their telephone number in, their location or what time of day it is. Again, this stage tends to last, on average, around 2 years.
This stage tends to show the most severe decline. A lot more daily help is needed for those with this stage of dementia. While it is still classed as ‘middle dementia’ it tends to be a time where families consider their help options. Whether it is respite in day care, full-time assistance at home, or a residential care home setting.
At this point, those with dementia will start to forget the names of family members, and begin to recall things that happened much earlier on in their lives. Other symptoms present themselves as difficulties with:
- Completing tasks
- Controlling their bladder
- Clear and coherent speech
This stage tends to last between 2 and 3 years, on average, and tends to be a time where those with dementia may go through significant personality changes and difficulty controlling their emotions. Possible problems can include:
- Compulsive behaviour
- Easy agitation
- Increased anxiety.
The last stage of dementia presents itself with the most severe decline in cognitive function. It tends to last between 2 and 3 years, and presents itself with:
- Complete loss, or intense difficulty with speech and communication
- Reliance on others for basic needs such as using the toilet, dressing, washing, and eating
- Loss of movement and ability to walk
As the last stage of dementia, the symptoms are very clear and serious, with a need for round-the-clock care. Residential care and full-time assistance are often the way friends and family care for those at this stage.
The information above is a guide to the different levels and types of cognitive decline that may be experienced by those with dementia. There are a number of different scales out there to rate the level of dementia, which include:
- Clinical Dementia Rating
- the Functional Assessment Staging Test
- the Global Deterioration Scale.
This tends to be why a lot of people use mild, moderate or severe as the different stages tend to fit into the main three categories.
Caring for someone with dementia can feel huge. The effect on your well-being is just as important as those diagnosed with dementia. As the symptoms progress it is important to consider what options are available. Do you need full time care in the home, or is it necessary to consider the move to a specialised care home?
The good news is that there are plenty of choices. Whether it’s access to respite through day centres, or support groups, daily assistance in the home, or a residential care home, there is support available when you need it most. If you have concerns over the welfare of someone suffering with dementia, it’s important to talk to someone who can help. The Willows dementia ‘hub’ and cafe is a space where all are welcome to come and chat. Whether you simply have questions about dementia, are looking for day care respite, activities, or more structured support we are here to help.
Want to know more? Just get in touch with The Willows team, or pop in for a cup of tea and a chat today.