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Dementia

Understanding the Stages and Types of Dementia

When people first find out that their loved one is suffering from dementia, one common inclination is to learn everything they can about the condition. There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding dementia, and doing your own research really does pay.

The first thing to know is that dementia is a major neurocognitive disorder and is characterized by a group of symptoms that are caused by one or more underlying conditions.

The identifying features of dementia are negative impacts on brain function related to memory, learning, decision-making, and language.

Dementia is also fairly prevalent: 5 to 8% of people over age 65 suffer from some dementia symptoms, and this percentage doubles every five years from then on.

The percentages of those affected, are roughly:

65 years old 5-8% affected
70 years old 10-16% affected
75 years old 20-32% affected
80 years old 40-64% affected

Alzheimer’s disease and the term dementia are often used interchangeably . But, in fact, Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, affecting between 60 and 80% of those with dementia. However, there are a number of other causes for dementia as well.

Types of Dementia

Dementia has many types, based on which part(s) of the brain appear(s) to be affected (as judged by tests and symptom prevalence). However, this is not perfectly clear-cut, as some patients experience both types of dementia and their underlying symptoms.

Primary types:

  • Alzheimer’s (accounts for 60-80%)
  • Vascular (second largest)
  • Mixed dementia (e.g. Alzheimer’s and vascular)
  • Lewy Body Dementia
  • Frontotemporal
  • Parkinson’s Disease with Dementia

The Stages of Dementia

Like many other conditions, dementia has different stages to indicate its severity and impact on one’s life. Dementia is progressive, and those who have it always experience a worsening of symptoms. However, the timeline on which the stages progress can vary widely for each individual, depending on the unique circumstances of his or her health and lifestyle.

While there are different ways of staging the disease, one commonly accepted system identifies 7 stages of dementia:

1. No impairment.

At this very first stage of dementia, the individual is exhibiting little or no outward symptoms. Impairment at this stage can only be detected by medical tests, which would reveal an abnormality in the brain that looks like it might eventually lead to more serious dementia symptoms down the road. This step is now referred to as mild cognitive impairment (MCI). There are now tests that can detect early signs of Alzheimer’s in the brain about 10 years before a patient would first exhibit any outward symptoms.

2. Very mild decline.

At this stage, you may notice your loved one experiencing behavioral changes, but not anything significant enough to impact their lifestyle or self-sufficiency. This is likely the start of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) as indicated above.

3. Mild decline.

This stage has more severe changes to the patient’s mental abilities, such as repeating information, having trouble with short term memory, and being less able to make and execute plans. This is generally the stage where MCI can turn into dementia.

4. Moderate decline.

At this stage, the patient experiences more significant loss of short- and mid-term memory, having trouble recalling recent events. Higher order thinking such as math and long-term plan-making suffers. At this stage, the individual likely has dementia.

5. Moderately severe decline.

This stage is characterized by losing much more information, from not knowing the time, day of the week, or month of the year, to no longer being able to remember their address or neighborhood, or the names of friends and extended family. Assistance is likely required with most household tasks, such as cleaning, cooking, shopping, etc.

6. Severe decline.

At this stage, the patient may have trouble remembering even the most ingrained information, such as names of their spouse or children. Basic functions such as eating and going to the bathroom may require help from others. Finally, with so much of their memory gone, the patient may exhibit increasingly dramatic changes in personality or temperament.

7. Very severe decline.

The final stage of dementia is characterized by extremely severe mental impairment, including the inability to communicate or move around. Individuals can become completely bed-bound at this stage.

It’s intimidating to read through the stages of dementia, we know. Our advice is to focus on the present and make the best of the stage that your loved one is in right now. Also, make sure you’re getting adequate help, both to help your loved one thrive and to help you live your own life without constant worry. Start by taking our 5 Minute Home Care Quiz, which will help you score your loved one’s well-being on 6 different parameters!

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