Dementia is a progressive illness, meaning symptoms of the disorder become more severe over time. These changes may come relatively quickly or set in more gradually. Either way, supporting your loved one through dementia is no easy task. It helps to understand the stages of dementia and what you can expect during each one. Armed with this knowledge, you will be better able to plan and prepare for your loved one’s needs. In your research on dementia, you have probably seen the condition divided into any number of stages. But, in general, there are three stages of dementia to be aware of.
Stages of Dementia
Stage 1: Mild Dementia – In the earliest stage it can be difficult to tell if your loved one’s issues are due to advanced age or dementia. They may forget things, such as where they left their wallet or eyeglasses or not remember to take their medications. They may have trouble keeping track of events or appointments. If you have lunch plans with Mom, she may repeatedly ask when and where you are going. This can be a frustrating experience! But the repetition likely gives her a sense of control during a confusing time.
During this stage of dementia, you may also notice a decline in direction sense. Dad may forget how to drive home from your house, even though he has done it countless times before. The ability to concentrate and focus on a task tends to decline. If Mom has always gardened she may stop, simply because the planning and daily tasks are too much to handle. It is not unusual for our loved ones to minimize or make excuses for their changed behavior. Dad might say he meant to take the scenic route, while Mom says it’s “too much trouble” to grow vegetables.
Stage 2: Moderate Dementia – In the moderate stage of dementia, it is usually quite clear to the family that something is going on. Disorientation and confusion increase during this stage. Your loved one may have trouble completing a sentence. They might forget the names for common objects. This can lead them to not ask for a fork, simply because they can’t remember what it’s called. They may forget people’s names, especially if they don’t see them often. They might occasionally confuse relationships. For example, they may believe a grandchild is their own son or daughter. This can certainly be troubling, but it’s best not to correct your loved one, as it will likely add to their confusion.
During moderate dementia, your loved one’s knowledge of current events may be affected. They might have trouble remembering who is president or who has a birthday coming up in the family. Perhaps they will not recognize an old friend who comes to visit or forget things about themselves, such as when their birthday is, or what town they live in. They may find social situations difficult and go out of their way to avoid them.
In other situations, they may have trouble sleeping and begin to exhibit some personality changes, such as irritableness and anxiety. They might become suspicious, perhaps telling you they can’t find a cherished memento because someone stole it. Your loved one will probably begin to need help with more complex self-care, such as bathing and dressing. Many caregivers consider assisted living facilities as a means of safely caring for their loved one. See a listing of assisted living facilities in Thousand Oaks and Woodland Hills.
Stage 3: Severe Dementia – During the severest stage of dementia, the person usually starts to withdraw. They may lose interest in trying to converse and become irritated with visitors. It may seem that they are living in the past. Your parent might talk often of friends that have passed away, yet seem uninterested in a sibling living nearby. They may not remember their own names or those of their children. You may notice behavior that borders on obsessiveness, such as always having to have a pillow placed just so. Your loved one may seem anxious for no apparent reason, or for a reason that seems illogical to you.
They may wander during this stage and need constant supervision. You may find them lashing out at you due to their frustration and inability to communicate. During the most severe stage of dementia, your loved one may lose the ability to speak altogether. They may need help with basic tasks, such as dressing and using the bathroom. Loss of bodily functions, such as bladder control and swallowing ability are common. Most caregivers find that they need extra help, in the form of a home health aide or assisted living facility to care for their loved one.
You won’t necessarily be able to fit all your loved one’s symptoms neatly into one of the above stages of dementia. A dementia patient might exhibit mostly mild symptoms but occasionally experience moderate symptoms, for example. Fluctuations in behavior and abilities is normal and not something to panic over. Dementia is a heartbreaking, difficult condition to live through. But remember that early treatment can slow the disease process in many cases. Encourage your loved one to see a doctor right away if you suspect something is going on. The earlier treatment begins, the better your loved one’s prognosis will be.