How easy it is when we get sick to transform from an independent, self-reliant, and strong individual to someone needy and dependent on the mercy
America is an aging nation. By 2040, 80 million of us will be 65 and older. And the population in their 80s will exceed 20%.
This means there will be many of us – forgetful, moody, and stubborn. Of course, none of these traits mean that we are demented.
Statistically, however, the older we get, the higher the chances of being diagnosed with it. Some form of dementia affects 5%-8% of adults over 65, while this percentage goes as high as 50% for those in their 80s.
If you are concerned for yourself or your loved ones because of other cases of dementia in the family and want to be better prepared for what to expect, read on. From this article, you will learn what the symptoms and stages of this progressive condition, broadly named dementia, are.
This knowledge can help you assess your or your beloved’s care needs and ensure you make the best decisions about it in a timely manner.
Dementia is the general term for a number of conditions that affect our cognitive abilities.
Among these, perhaps the most well-known and common is Alzheimer’s disease. Of all people with dementia, those who have Alzheimer’s are between 60 to 80%.
However, there are other forms of dementia, such as:
Each of these conditions may present with different signs and symptoms, but they all impact our ability to think, focus, and reason.
All types of dementia are also progressive, which means that the condition worsens with time, i.e., its symptoms and effects typically amplify.
Unfortunately, despite promising research, so far, scientists haven’t come up with a comprehensive, successful cure for any of the dementia kinds.
Some treatment plans that help slow down the progression of the disease or the severity of the symptoms are available today.
Some promising directions in which researchers are working are:
Scientists in the UK Alzheimer’s Research Center are currently looking into how damage in the brain happens and how to prevent it from happening with the help of stem cells.
At present, there are a few ongoing studies that aim to discover how certain antibodies can prevent or slow down the progression of the early stages of Alzheimer’s dementia. Additionally, researchers are trying to figure out how to avert the overstimulation of immune cells in the brain, a process that may be causing brain damage.
Scientists are looking to identify the genes responsible for frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s, as well as genes that can help lower the production of dementia-causing proteins such as ‘tau’ and ‘alpha-synuclein.’
Medications that have been proven to temporarily slow down the progression and increase the quality of life of people diagnosed with dementia are:
Administered with an IV infusion, these drugs reduce the accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain and thus can slow down memory loss and other cognitive symptoms.
These medications help brain cells communicate with each other better by balancing the levels and stimulating the production of neurotransmitters.
Used at moderate and advanced stages of dementia, Memantine decreases the effect of excessive glutamate in the nerve cells and alleviates some of the symptoms of dementia.
Non-drug approaches to the treatment of dementia may include lifestyle changes, nutrition adjustments, and the others mentioned below.
Regular physical activity can have cognitive and emotional benefits for people with dementia. It helps improve mood and maintain physical function, and it may even slow cognitive decline.
Engaging in activities that challenge the brain, such as puzzles, games, and social interactions, can help maintain mental awareness.
A heart-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
Treating conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol may help reduce the risk of vascular dementia caused by impaired blood flow to the brain.
Staying socially active and maintaining relationships can help improve the overall well-being of people with dementia.
While these approaches may be promising in some, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for dementia, and treatment plans should be tailored to your or your loved one’s individual needs.
Being diagnosed with dementia may mean that you or your loved one have lived with it for years, a condition called preclinical Alzheimer’s, as the changes in the brain do not happen overnight but begin long before you notice any symptoms.
After diagnosis, life expectancy can be anywhere between 4 and 20 years, and it depends on the type of dementia as well as how progressed the condition is.
While the advancement of the disease can vary from person to person, dementia is often categorized into three general phases and seven more detailed stages, as per the Global Deterioration Scale (GDS) developed by Dr. Barry Reisberg.
If you are a caregiver of someone with dementia, the following descriptions will give you an idea of where your loved one is at this moment and what to expect in the future.
It’s important to note that the rate of progression can vary significantly from person to person. Some may remain in one stage for an extended period, while others may progress more rapidly.
Additionally, the specific symptoms and challenges your loved one face can vary depending on the type of dementia they have (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia).
Early diagnosis and appropriate interventions can help improve the quality of life for both individuals with dementia and their caregivers.
The main staging system is just one of several approaches to conceptualizing the progression of dementia.
The seven-stage division is one of the most well-known models and is often associated with the Alzheimer’s Association. It applies mostly to Alzheimer’s disease symptoms and deterioration.
Again, it’s important to note that this seven-stage model is just one way of describing the progression of dementia, and it may not precisely match the experiences of all people who suffer from it.
The specific symptoms and timeline can vary widely depending on the type of dementia and their unique circumstances.
Healthcare professionals typically use more comprehensive assessment tools to diagnose and stage dementia, and they tailor care plans accordingly.
Being a degenerative disease, unfortunately, means that with time, the condition of people suffering from dementia will worsen, and their symptoms will become more and more pronounced.
The early symptoms of dementia can drastically vary depending on the type and the individual. However, there are some common signs and symptoms that shouldn’t be dismissed.
Keep in mind that other medical conditions can also cause these symptoms, so it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation if you or a loved one are experiencing these symptoms.
Some early signs of dementia may include:
This is one of the most common early signs. People may forget recently learned information, important dates, or events. They may repeatedly ask the same questions or rely on memory aids like notes. Your loved one may start to forget their address, phone number, or where they have placed common items like keys or glasses.
Having trouble performing familiar tasks, such as cooking a meal, following a recipe, managing finances, or getting lost in a familiar neighborhood, should be considered a red flag.
Early-stage dementia may cause confusion about the time, place, or identity of people, even close family members.
Your loved one may struggle to find the right words, have difficulty following or joining in conversations, or repeat themselves.
Organizing thoughts, making decisions, and planning tasks can become challenging.
People with early-stage dementia may put things in unusual places and then have difficulty retracing their steps to find them.
You may start to notice that your loved one has sudden changes in their moods. They may become more irritable, anxious, depressed, more withdrawn, or less interested in social activities.
Exhibiting poor judgment or decision-making, such as making knee-jerk decisions, giving large amounts of money to telemarketers, or easily trusting strangers, is another symptom of early-stage dementia.
Some people lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed and may have difficulty starting or completing tasks.
Again, it’s important to emphasize that not everyone with these symptoms has dementia, and other medical conditions can cause similar issues.
Additionally, the progression and severity of symptoms can vary widely among individuals with dementia.
If you or someone you know is experiencing these early signs, it is crucial to seek a comprehensive evaluation from a healthcare professional, preferably a specialist in neurology or geriatrics.
Early diagnosis can be valuable for planning and implementing appropriate interventions and support for the individual and their family.
The middle stage of dementia is usually the longest of the three. During this period, also called moderate dementia, your loved one may experience more pronounced memory loss, and it might become more difficult for them to communicate with others. Thus, they will need more care and assistance with daily activities.
Your loved one struggle with remembering things will become more severe and noticeable.
They may have difficulty recalling recent events or conversations they have partaken in just hours or days ago and even some long-term events.
They may not recognize close family members or friends, and their repetitive questions and stories become more frequent.
Struggling to find the right words during conversations can lead to pauses or circumlocutions (talking around a word).
They may find it difficult to follow or join in conversations and express their thoughts coherently.
Their speech may become disorganized or fragmented.
Your loved one may demonstrate poor judgment and difficulty making sound decisions, often leading to risky behaviors or financial mismanagement.
Your beloved may find it very challenging to plan and organize tasks or to manage their finances.
They may take longer to complete familiar activities that involve multiple steps.
They may require assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as dressing, bathing, toileting, and grooming.
Managing medications on their own and preparing meals may become increasingly challenging.
They may become confused about their time, place, and personal identity.
Often, they may not be sure what the current date is, where they are, or how they got there.
Agitation, aggression, and mood swings may become more frequent.
Your beloved may start wandering, pacing, or being restless.
Their sleep may become less sound, they may start to experience nighttime awakenings.
In some types of dementia, people may experience hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there) or delusions (false beliefs).
Motor skills decline affects mobility making it difficult for them to walk and coordinate balanced movements. Falls become a significant concern.
Loss of bladder or bowel control can occur in the middle stage of dementia.
Your beloved may become increasingly withdrawn from social interactions, including with family and friends.
Another symptom is losing interest in activities they once enjoyed and may need encouragement to engage in any form of activity.
They may start to struggle to recognize familiar objects or their purpose, such as not recognizing a toothbrush or how to use it.
The middle stage of dementia is often marked by significant challenges in daily functioning. They will need to rely increasingly on caregivers for care and support.
As a caregiver, you may face more stress and responsibilities during this stage, and it’s essential to seek help from healthcare professionals and support services, such as Amy’s Eden, to provide appropriate care and maintain your beloved’s safety and well-being.
Care planning should include strategies for managing behavioral symptoms and ensuring comfort and dignity.
In the late stages of dementia, your loved one will experience profound cognitive and functional decline, leading to significant challenges in daily life.
The specific symptoms can vary depending on the type of dementia (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia), but here are some common symptoms and characteristics often associated with this stage.
Memory loss is extensive, and your beloved may have difficulty recognizing even close family members or recalling significant life events.
They may have no awareness of recent or past events.
Communication becomes extremely difficult as they may struggle to understand or produce meaningful speech.
Nonverbal communication, such as gestures or facial expressions, may also be limited.
Muscle weakness and loss of motor skills can lead to immobility or difficulty walking. Often, people become bedridden or require a wheelchair.
Your beloved will require full assistance for ADLs, including dressing, bathing, toileting, grooming, and feeding.
They may also lose the ability to swallow properly, increasing the risk of choking or suffocating.
Difficulty eating and swallowing can lead to weight loss and malnutrition.
Similarly to the moderate stage, bowel and bladder incontinence is common in the late stages.
They may have no awareness of time, place, or personal identity – not recognizing their own reflection in a mirror.
Often, they could be agitated or aggressive or have emotional outbursts.
At the same time, they may become numb and unresponsive or exhibit repetitive behaviors.
Some may experience vivid hallucinations and persistent delusions.
A weakened immune system and decreased mobility can make your beloved more prone to infections, such as pneumonia.
In the late stages, your loved one will require full-time care and will be entirely dependent on caregivers for all their needs.
They may feel pain or discomfort but may have difficulty communicating it to others.
The late stages of dementia are emotionally challenging for both people with dementia and their caregivers.
Caregivers play a crucial role in providing comfort, ensuring safety, and maintaining dignity and quality of life.
Palliative and end-of-life care principles such as:
may be applied to manage symptoms and improve your beloved’s comfort in this stage.
Receiving support and having reliable resources as a caregiver is crucial to help you cope with the demands of caregiving.
Supporting someone with dementia involves addressing various key areas to enhance their well-being and maintain their quality of life.
Here are some crucial key areas to consider when providing support for a loved one with dementia.
Practice clear and simple communication.
Use nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and gestures.
Be patient, listen actively, and give the person ample time to respond.
Create a safe environment by removing hazards and ensuring proper lighting.
Consider safety devices like door alarms to prevent wandering.
Ensure the person is wearing appropriate identification and a medical alert bracelet if needed.
Establish a consistent daily routine and schedule to provide predictability.
Use visual aids, such as calendars and clocks, to reinforce the routine.
Ensure medications are taken as prescribed.
Consider using pill organizers or medication management services.
Regularly review medications with their healthcare professionals.
Offer well-balanced, nutritious meals and monitor fluid intake to prevent dehydration.
Address any dietary restrictions or swallowing difficulties with a healthcare provider.
Encourage regular physical exercises appropriate for the person’s abilities.
Activities like gentle workouts and walks can help maintain mobility and improve mood.
Maintaining a positive and supportive atmosphere.
Be patient, understanding, and empathetic.
Address behavioral and psychological symptoms through non-pharmacological approaches whenever possible.
Facilitate social interaction with family and friends.
Participate in activities that your loved one enjoys, such as music, art, or hobbies.
Consider joining support groups for both the person with dementia and their caregivers.
It is essential to provide caregivers with regular breaks and rest.
Respite care can be provided by family members, friends, or professional caregivers.
Ensure that legal documents, such as powers of attorney and advance directives, are in place.
Address financial matters and plan for long-term care needs.
Knowing and employing coping strategies to manage stress and caregiver burnout can be very handy.
Seek professional counseling or support groups for caregivers.
Consult with healthcare professionals, including geriatricians, neurologists, and dementia specialists, for guidance and medical management.
Regularly review and update the care plan as needed.
Discuss and document end-of-life care preferences and decisions.
Ensure that family members and healthcare providers are aware of your beloved’s wishes.
Advocate for their rights and well-being in healthcare settings and within the community.
Be an informed and proactive advocate for their needs.
Constantly learn more about dementia, its progression, and available resources.
Stay updated on recent research and treatments.
Providing support for someone with dementia is a complex and evolving process. Tailor your approach to their unique needs, preferences, and stages of dementia. Seek assistance from healthcare professionals, support organizations, and community resources to ensure that you can provide the best possible care and support for your beloved with dementia and yourself as a caregiver.
Dementia is a progressive condition that typically evolves through several stages, each with its own set of symptoms and challenges.
Today, there isn’t a known cure for this cognitive disorder, but some medications and non-pharmaceutical treatments successfully address certain dementia symptoms.
The coping strategies for dementia should be tailored to the particular stage and symptoms that your loved one is experiencing.
Here’s a short overview of dementia’s stages, common symptoms, and coping strategies for each stage.
Coping with dementia requires a comprehensive and ever-adapting approach.
Adjust your strategies to your beloved’s specific needs, and seek assistance from healthcare professionals and support organizations.
Getting help from organizations like Amy’s Eden will ensure the best possible care and support for both the person with dementia and their caregivers. Get dementia care here.
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