Dementia is a general term for a group of complex diseases that affect memory, thinking, and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and affects older adults.
Dementia begins with mild changes in mental function and slowly worsens to severe impairments in cognition. If you have a loved one with dementia, knowing these changes can help you plan for their care.
Dementia is more common with age, one-third of people over 85 may have some form of dementia, but it’s not a normal part of aging.
There are different types of dementia, many causes of cognitive function, and varying symptoms depending on the type and stage.
Risk factors for dementia include the following:
- Age: Affecting people 65 and older.
- Family history of dementia: Parents or siblings with dementia
- Medical conditions: Diabetes, Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and sleep apnea.
- Lifestyle factors: Smoking, heavy alcohol use, poor diet, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol if not treated.
- Brain injury: Severe or repeated head injuries.
- Infection of the brain: Meningitis and syphilis
- Race: African Americans and Hispanics have higher rates of dementia.
Stages of Dementia
Dementias are progressive diseases, and changes in functional ability continue to occur. Three stages of dementia include early or mild, middle or moderate, and late or severe. Early onset/mild cognitive impairment refers to Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed at a younger age.
Early or Mild Stage of Dementia
In early or mild dementia, people aren’t always aware they have the disease. However, some people may notice slight changes that something is wrong with their thinking but can still function independently with little help.
Changes can include memory lapses and forgetting things that can affect daily life. Signs and symptoms of early or mild stage dementia include:
- Forgetfulness and memory loss of recent events
- Getting lost and misplacing things
- A shift in personality and mood, such as depression and withdrawing
- Difficulty with complex tasks such as managing finances
- Difficulty with learning new things
- Difficulty following conversations and expressing thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating or limited attention span
Middle or Moderate Stage of Dementia
In the middle or moderate stage of dementia, people need more help with everyday activities and self-care as memory and thinking ability continue to deteriorate. At this stage, more people are aware of the condition.
Signs and symptoms of middle/moderate stage dementia include:
- Memory loss of the past
- Unable to carry out activities of daily living
- Poor judgment
- Personality and behavior changes such as agitation, mood swings
- Repeating questions
- Changes in sleep patterns
At this stage, making life easier for a loved one with dementia can include speaking to their doctor about care, treatment options, and support services.
Late or Severe Stage of Dementia
In late or severe dementia, the disease progresses to a point where it affects functioning and physical capabilities. Care needs are high and may require continued support 24 hours/day to ensure the highest quality of life.
Signs and symptoms of late or severe stage dementia include:
- Severe memory impairment where one cannot remember family and friends.
- Inability to communicate verbally with unrecognized speech
- Functional impairment such as incontinence andinability to eat and walk, leading to malnutrition, weakness with loss of muscle control, and susceptibility to pneumonia.
Diagnosing Dementia and Stages of Dementia
There is no cure for dementia, but an early diagnosis can help families plan for the future and consider different care options. Doctors can address family history and underlying conditions related to cognitive decline with treatment.
Other methods and tests used to diagnose dementia include:
- Cognitive and neurological tests
- Brain scans
- Psychiatirc evaluation
- Genetic tests
- Blood tests
Support for All Stages of Dementia
Dementia can be a very progressive disease, and symptoms can worsen quickly. Dementia can progress from having little to no impact on quality of life to severely impacting the quality of life.
It’s vital for individuals with dementia, regardless of cognitive function, to have engagement, meaningful experiences, and live with dignity. Fox Trail Senior Living offers a community environment with a wide selection of services and activities to provide a personalized approach to all residents.
Contact us or request a visit to learn more about our memory support program.