What are the Stages of Dementia?
As if the gradual deterioration of our bodies wasn’t bad enough, for many seniors aging also includes the arguably more harrowing experience of an ailing mind. When your loved one starts to move from occasionally losing their keys (like we all do) into more serious memory and cognitive issues, it can often be hard to identify the line between everyday forgetfulness and an illness.
Recognizing dementia when it’s occurring is important. If you know your loved one is suffering from dementia, you can gain a better idea of what to expect in the days to come and how to handle it in a way that’s best for your loved one and the rest of your family.
What is Dementia?
Dementia isn’t a clearly defined illness so much as it’s a collection of symptoms. Identifying many of those symptoms can eventually lead to a diagnosis of one of the illnesses that falls under the umbrella term of dementia – Alzheimer’s is the most common, but Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease also fall under the same category.
What are the Stages of Dementia?
Creating categories to help track the different stages of dementia enables caregivers and health care providers to better understand when a person crosses the line from normal memory and cognitive issues and into the territory where they need extra help.
Stage 1: Everything’s fine
The first stage of dementia is when there’s no impairment at all. Doctors opted to start the scale at the level of normal brain health, in order to have a standard for comparison once getting into the other stages.
Stage 2: Very mild
Very mild dementia includes symptoms like having a hard time remembering names or remembering where you left your keys. This stage is common – many seniors (and many non-seniors) experience minor memory problems. Usually this stage doesn’t require any need for concern or point to a likely diagnosis of a serious cognitive illness.
Stage 3: Mild
This is the stage where things start to get a little more serious. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is when those previously minor issues with memory and thinking start to affect your loved one’s daily life (although moderately). If they start to have more trouble getting work done, solving problems, or remembering everyday things, they may have moved into stage 3.
Stage 4: Moderate
Here’s where things start to get bad enough that you should consider if an Alzheimer’s diagnosis or treatment may be in order. At this stage, a senior may experience moodiness or begin to seem antisocial. They’ll have trouble with everyday tasks and often be unresponsive. Often at this stage, a senior will insist that nothing’s wrong and deny that any symptoms are happening.
Stage 5: Moderately Severe
When things reach this point, you’ll often find that caregiving from a loved one won’t cut it anymore and you need to seek a memory care facility. Your loved one is likely to need help with basic daily tasks like getting dressed and bathing and they’ll suffer from regular confusion, forgetfulness, and difficulty with focus and problem solving.
Stage 6: Severe
At this point, a caregiver is needed for most tasks of daily life – getting dressed, bathing, eating, using the bathroom, and potentially getting from place to place. The same memory and mental problems from the earlier stages will still be present, but seniors will also experience personality changes, delusions, and may have trouble recognizing loved ones.
Stage 7: Very Severe
When your loved one reaches this point, care will become even more challenging. They may lose the ability to communicate some of the time (although sometimes seniors with severe dementia will have occasional days of lucidity), they’ll need help with all types of day-to-day care, and they may lose the ability to walk.
Experiencing one of the early stages of dementia doesn’t mean your loved one will necessarily go on to stage 7; it works differently for different people. If you can put a name to what’s happening and gain a better understanding of how to treat and handle it, you’ll make taking care of a loved one with dementia much easier on yourself. If you find your loved one moving into any of the stages beyond stage 2, it’s worth talking to your doctor about it to learn more.