Dementia is a disorder in the brain that is prevalent among older adults. However, it is not a typical aspect of aging. The early warning signs are subtle and frequently go unnoticed; it is also difficult to tell the difference between dementia and normal aging-related memory loss. Dementia affects every aspect of a person’s life, from a person’s ability to maintain relationships to their ability to live independently.
Although dementia develops progressively, with support and care, it is manageable. Understanding the stages of dementia can help you better support your loved one in leading a fulfilling life. Medical professionals use this seven-stage Reisberg Scale to assess the severity of dementia.
Stage 1: Pre-Cognitive Decline
At this first stage, there is no cognitive decline and there are no obvious symptoms. While your loved one may occasionally experience memory loss, they can still function normally and are fully capable of taking care of themselves, carrying out daily tasks, and taking part in their regular activities. Although there are no indicative signs, a CT scan could show brain changes that may lead to future cognitive decline. Genetic testing may also indicate the possibility of dementia. But neither of these tests are definite indicators.
Stage 2: Very Mild Decline
The symptoms of your loved one at this stage are similar to those of normal aging. They might occasionally forget appointments, struggle to remember words, or fail to pay a bill once in a while. These incidents may be worrying, but they don’t significantly affect their quality of life. At this point, your loved one is only experiencing a very mild cognitive decline, and is still capable of carrying out independent care. It is essential that their doctors are aware, so that they can monitor cognitive changes over time. Recognizing early signs is critical as early treatment can slow the development and improve symptoms.
Stage 3: Mild Decline
At this stage, your loved one’s daily functioning starts to be affected. Forgetting becomes more frequent, they may have difficulty completing tasks or often lose their train of thought. This is also the stage where it starts to get obvious to family and friends.
Stage 4: Moderate Decline
This is the stage when it becomes very clear that your loved one has significant difficulties with daily tasks. But they will be in denial. This is also when a formal diagnosis will be made. Your loved one may occasionally lose their sense of place and what is going on. They might need assistance with chores like cooking or bill-paying that are part of running a home. A person in this stage is also likely to experience emotional swings, lose interest in daily activities, and withdraw from social situations.
Stage 5: Moderately Severe Decline
At this point, dementia’s emotional effects also get worse. Dementia patients in stage 5 may exhibit irritability, anxiety, depression, or anger. They may also have significant personality changes as well. Quality of life becomes very affected by dementia, and your loved one will require assistance with many daily tasks, like bathing, grooming, and dressing. Both short- and long-term memory are impacted, and they may start to forget the names and identities of family members and friends, particularly those they don’t see frequently.
Stage 6: Severe Decline
Also known as middle dementia, your loved one will require significant assistance with daily activities, like eating and maintaining personal hygiene. They may struggle to speak because they frequently lose their words and can’t put sentences together. The severe cognitive decline will affect their long and short-term memories and may not recognize close family and friends. They may struggle with physical issues like incontinence and insomnia.
Stage 7: Very Severe Decline
At this late-stage dementia, your loved one will require help for even simple tasks. They might have trouble swallowing and eating, and might refuse food. Your loved one is still fully conscious and aware of the discomfort and frustration even though they may be uncertain of who they are, who you are, and where they are. At this stage, caregiving is primarily concerned with comfort and physical requirements.