Understanding the timeline of dementia is crucial for patients, caregivers, and medical professionals to manage the condition effectively.
Dementia, a term describing a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking, and social abilities, usually worsens over time. The most common form of dementia in the world is Alzheimer’s disease, which also progresses through various stages.
In this guide, we will discuss the stages of dementia, focusing on Alzheimer’s disease, and provide insights into the symptoms, duration, and care needs throughout the timeline of dementia.
The first stage in the timeline of dementia is the preclinical stage, which occurs long before noticeable symptoms emerge. Your loved one hasn’t received a diagnosis yet but may have tested positive for common Alzheimer’s genes during early checks and tests.
During this stage, new imaging technologies can detect deposits of a “hallmark” protein called amyloid-beta, a definitive sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
Biomarkers and genetic tests can also indicate an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, particularly early-onset Alzheimer’s. The preclinical stage lasts for years, possibly even decades, and is usually identified only in medical testing.
As with many diseases, early detection could mean a world of difference in how your loved one goes about treating it.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is characterized by mild changes in memory and thinking abilities that do not significantly affect daily functioning.
During this stage, people may experience memory lapses, difficulty concentrating, and decreased work performance.
Diagnosis of MCI is often based on the doctor’s professional review of symptoms and experience. Similar procedures that are used to identify preclinical Alzheimer’s disease can also assist in determining whether your loved one’s MCI is due to Alzheimer’s disease or something else.
MCI isn’t necessarily a normal part of aging. Occasionally forgetting or misplacing something is common or becoming agitated if their routine is disrupted.
But if your loved one’s forgetfulness is happening more frequently or they experience drastic behavioral changes, they should see a doctor.
It’s important to note that your loved one’s disease may progress differently than others.
There is generally an early, middle, and late stage of the disease, though symptoms will vary by person. A diagnosis isn’t a confirmation of any specific outcome. Some seniors can have a comfortable quality of life after their diagnosis.
You may hear your loved one’s doctors refer to different stages of their disease. The following details what they might experience in each stage.
Once Alzheimer’s or dementia is diagnosed, your loved one can still make lifestyle changes in the early stages to help maintain their quality of life. Encourage them to focus on their health, their diet, and the activities they spend their energy on.
Someone in the beginning stages of dementia can often function relatively independently but may require simple reminders for appointments and names. Other symptoms could include misplacing items, a decline in problem-solving abilities, and personality shifts.
During this period, caregivers and family members can assist with a variety of coping strategies to help loved ones maintain their independence.
Establishing a long-term care plan and addressing financial and legal matters are essential during this stage, while your loved one can still be a part of the process.
Kensington Place Redwood City always advocates having a plan in place early for any transitions into senior living.
As their condition progresses, they’ll likely be more agitated, harder to transition, and less likely to be able to participate in the conversation. Allow them to be a part of this conversation by discussing it during this stage.
As dementia progresses, the resulting brain damage can cause a person to have difficulty expressing thoughts and performing daily tasks. Symptoms could appear more frequently in this stage.
Memory issues become more severe, and individuals may forget their address and personal history or become easily confused about their surroundings.
Communication becomes harder, and mood and behavior changes may appear. They’ll require more supervision and care, whether from a family member or hired caregiver.
Symptoms will begin to worsen in these stages. If a conversation about transitioning into a senior living community has not yet taken place, it should now, before their condition becomes severe.
The moderate stage of dementia is often the longest stage and is characterized by increasing symptoms such as confusion, memory loss, and difficulties with daily activities. Symptoms will begin to affect the person both mentally and physically.
In this stage, individuals may lose track of time, become disoriented, and have difficulty making sound decisions. They may also require assistance with daily activities such as bathing, grooming, and dressing. It may become difficult, or even impossible, for them to safely live on their own.
Other issues that could arise include:
- Moodiness or acting more withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations
- Confusion about where they are or what day it is
- Overwhelmed at simple decisions such as dressing for the weather
- Poor judgment, vulnerability to scams and exploitation
- Trouble controlling their bladder and bowels
- Changes in sleep patterns, sundowning
- Wandering, becoming lost in familiar places
- Behavioral changes could include suspiciousness and delusions
- Increase in compulsive, repetitive behavior such as hand-wringing or tissue shredding
Establishing a routine and exercising patience are crucial during this stage. A family member or healthcare professional should be designated as a caregiver at this point if they haven’t already.
In the late stages of dementia, individuals experience significant issues with communication, and memory, and require round-the-clock supervision and assistance.
They may become unable to walk, require help with personal hygiene and eating, and may eventually become bedridden. Their bodily functions often will stop functioning properly and they’ll become vulnerable to both physical dangers and sickness.
If you’re currently a caregiver for a loved one in this stage, they could still benefit from listening to relaxing music or soundscapes, gentle and supportive physical touch such as hand holding, or quiet conversations.
Seniors in this stage of the disease should really be in a senior living community with high-acuity care, meaning that a team of professionals is available to care for them no matter how much their needs change.
Rates of progression for Alzheimer’s disease will vary from person to person.
The moderate stage often lasts the longest out of all three, with frequent symptoms and caregiving required.
On average, individuals with Alzheimer’s live between three and 11 years after diagnosis, with some surviving 20 years or longer.
Identifying the degree of impairment at diagnosis can affect life expectancy, and untreated vascular risk factors, such as hypertension, can expedite the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
The care needs of a person with dementia change as the disease progresses.
In the early stages, individuals can function independently and require little assistance. You can support them by encouraging positive lifestyle changes, enriching social activities, easy exercise, and a healthy diet.
As the disease progresses toward the mid and late stages, individuals require more support with daily activities and self-care.
Caregivers should consider in-home care or senior living community options, and financial assistance to provide the best possible quality of life for their loved ones.
As dementia progresses, full-time residence with trained staff may become necessary.
Assisted living residences are suitable for individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, while dedicated memory care is ideal for those in the mid to late stages.
Dedicated Alzheimer’s or dementia-care communities are typically well-suited for individuals with advanced dementia and additional medical needs.
Various tools and technological aids can help individuals with dementia maintain their independence and improve their quality of life.
Some examples include:
- Automatic stove/oven turn-offs
- Appliance monitors
- Object locators
- Medication dispensers
- Stove knob covers
- Dementia clocks
- Medical alerts
- Talking photo albums/frames
The timeline of dementia can be complex and varies from person to person.
Understanding the stages and progression of dementia is vital to provide the greatest possible care for individuals affected by this condition.
Early planning and adapting to the changing needs of a person with dementia can ensure a smoother journey for the patient and their caregivers.
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia reveal themselves in a variety of ways, but we are ready to meet each and every one to maintain their best quality of life.
Making the “big move” to a senior living or memory care community may be difficult—especially if you have been their sole caregiver. However, planning early on can help ease some of your worries and concerns.
When you’re ready, we’re here to support you.
Contact us to learn more about our life-enriching communities, secure grounds, support groups, and ongoing events to help your loved ones continue their best lives.
As always, Our Promise is to take care of your loved one as if they were our own family members.