All types of dementia cause damage to the chemistry and structure of the brain. The most common types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and Frontotemporal dementia are all progressive.
This means that the symptoms of dementia get worse over time. Gradually a person loses the ability to reason, remember, communicate and do everyday things.
Whilst the rate of progression can vary depending on an individuals underlying health and the support available to them, health professionals tend to talk about the progression of dementia in a series of stages.
Understanding how the disease progresses can help you and someone you care for know what to expect and plan ahead.
The three stages of dementia are referred to as early, middle and late stage dementia. It’s important to remember that these stages serve only as a general guide.
These stages tend to coincide more with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease over a number of years. On average most people tend to live 7 to 10 years after diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Other types of dementia will follow a similar progression but symptoms can vary in the early stages.
For instance, people with vascular dementia can experience obvious sudden symptoms after a massive stroke or they can get progressively worse after a series of mini strokes (TIA).
It’s also not uncommon for people to be diagnosed with both vascular and Alzheimer’s disease.
In the early stages of Frontotemporal dementia, personality changes may be more obvious than problems with memory depending on which part of the brain is affected.
People with Dementia with Lewy bodies can have hallucinations, disturbed sleep patterns and motor changes as seen in Parkinson’s disease.
As dementia progresses a person’s capabilities can change quickly or slowly over a number of years. Symptoms of dementia can also be made worse by other significant health conditions like diabetes. They can come and go or overlap.
For people living with dementia an infection or fall can be devastating. People living with dementia who undergo surgery are not likely to retain their previous capabilities.
It’s important to remember that no two people will experience the disease in the same way. Not everyone will experience all the symptoms in these stages or in a particular order.
Learning to enjoy the moment and focusing on an individual’s capabilities and quality of life should be top priority when caring for someone living with dementia.