You are reading a post on the general stages of dementia. Bear in mind, dementia is a general term to describe a long list of cognitive disorders ranging from mild illnesses to life-threatening conditions.
Here, I share stages of dementia keeping Alzheimer’s disease in mind. Although, these stages can be used as a yardstick to measure the cognitive decline in a Dementia patient.
I am assuming you are a professional caregiver, a wellness nurse, or simply an individual who has a family member exhibiting Dementia-like symptoms. This post is backed with research papers and data provided by the world’s largest health organizations.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a clinically used term that encompasses all disorders that involve a progressive cognitive decline in an individual. It is an umbrella term used by medical professionals, caregivers, and family members of those suffering from such illnesses.
The cognitive decline can range from mild to severe. In the initial stages of Dementia, the patient experiences almost undetectable symptoms such as forgetfulness, inability to plan and execute basic certain cognitively challenging tasks, or remembering to pay their credit card bills.
The reason I say these are undetectable is that people do go through periods in life where they tend to ignore certain aspects of their life. Forgetting to pay house rent on time doesn’t necessarily mean Dementia.
As the disease progresses, the symptoms become moderate and eventually severe. There are a total of six stages of Dementia.
According to a report by the Alzheimer’s Association, the stages could be categorized as Early (mild), Middle (moderate), and Last (severe). But In this post, we have dissected them even further so you could recognize the patterns (of cognitive decline in your family member or a friend) more accurately.
What Diseases Come Under the Umbrella Term “Dementia”?
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Vascular Dementia
- Lewy Body Dementia
- Frontotemporal Dementia
What Are the General Stages of Dementia?
Stage 1: No Symptoms At All
In stage 1, no visible signs or symptoms of Dementia are exhibited by the patient. Depending on the specific type of the disease, internal damages to the brain may or may not begin to occur.
Conditions like Huntington’s disease (being a genetic disorder) can be diagnosed in this stage. The patient appears to function normally. They can go to work, drive, exercise, and perform complex tasks with ease (or as they normally would do).
Stage 2: Very Mild and Undetectable Symptoms
At the second stage of Dementia, the symptoms are not yet visible to the family members and co-workers of the patient. However, the patient may feel puzzled as to why they are suddenly struggling to remember the names and phone numbers of their near and dear ones.
The patient also begins to lose their sense of organization. Meaning, they misplace items (like towels, television remote controller, car keys, office stationery, bills, etc) in their homes and workplaces.
Stage 3: Mild Yet Visible Symptoms
This is the stage where the family members, friends, and co-workers begin to doubt the well-being of the patient. They begin to recognize the lack of hard work, concentration, focus, and dedication in the patient.
This is also the stage where the daily routine and activities of the patient begin to get negatively affected. If you notice the general symptoms of Dementia in your loved one or a co-worker, you must intervene. Ask them if they are feeling okay. If possible suggest them to see their family doctor.
At this stage, the patient can drive or commute via public transport (to the nearest clinic). However, it is advised to drive them to the clinic yourself as one mistake (while driving or crossing the street) could turn out to be lethal.
Stage 4: Mid-Stage, The Disease Begins to Develop and Grow
This is the longest stage of Dementia. The disease begins to grow and spread like wildfire. With therapy and proper care, the symptoms can be managed up to a degree. It all depends on the level of cognitive deterioration though.
This is also the stage where an individual begins to lose focus up to a degree where it begins to interfere with their work and activities of daily living.
Tasks like writing an email to a client, reading a book, managing finances, filling a form, etc become very challenging. This stage can last up to 2-8 years.
Stage 5: Severe Cognitive Decline
Stage 5 is where a family member of a Dementia patient must take over the responsibility of the well being of their loved one. Hiring a professional caregiver can also be a good option if it is affordable.
Most doctors would advise the Dementia patient to stay indoors and keep away from performing complex physical activities. In some cases, basic activities such as operating a toaster, washing machine, or computer can also become difficult.
A family member should consider themselves lucky if their loved one (in this stage) can remember their name. Some patients may also begin to forget recently occurred events such as weddings, birthday parties, office outings, etc.
Your loved one might say or do things to offend or annoy you. Do not take it personally. Most caregivers have reported the patient to exhibit socially unacceptable behavior.
Inform the doctor soon if your loved one becomes a physical threat to others in your home or community. They may recommend some physical restraint mitts and belts.
Stage 6: The Patient Loses Touch With Reality
Unfortunately for the patient and their family members, there is no cure for Dementia yet. During the final stage (which can last for more than two years), the patient becomes fully dependent on the caregiver.
The severe decline in cognitive function leads to impairment in motor skills, making it impossible for them to walk or stand on their feet.
The ill-health also makes them vulnerable to life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia and other infectious diseases caused by pathogenic microorganisms.
How is Dementia Diagnosed?
Cognitive impairment is multifactorial, says Dr. Feng Chang from the University of Waterloo. As a result, a thorough evaluation of a patient’s medical history is quintessential. In addition to that, laboratory tests, physical examination, and psychiatric evaluation are also performed by respective medical professionals.
At no point, a family member should diagnose the potential patient by themselves. What I mean to say is, they should not adopt a treatment method based on the symptoms their family member exhibits. If you doubt your family has Dementia, take them to the nearest geriatric psychiatrist, neuropsychologist, or geriatrician (NIH).