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What Are the 7 Stages of Dementia?

Thoughtful senior man sitting on his couch

Nothing can prepare you for the changes ahead when someone you love is diagnosed with dementia. However,  knowing what to expect at different stages can help you find ways to cope as the condition progresses. As a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, learning as much as you can about the stages of dementia can help you mentally prepare for what’s next.

The Global Deterioration Scale developed by Dr. Barry Reisberg defines the seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of primary degenerative dementia. The scale is commonly used by health care professionals when communicating with patients and families about planning for dementia care. The progression of dementia looks different for everyone and the length of time for each stage can vary, but most people with dementia experience a gradual shift from mild to moderate to severe symptoms.

Stage 1: No Cognitive Decline

The first stage can be defined as a normal functioning stage where a person has no memory impairment or symptoms of cognitive decline. The changes that happen in the brain in this early stage are often hidden. In this stage, a person continues with normal activities with no indication of any problems related to dementia.

Stage 2: Age-Associated Memory Impairment

In this stage, a person may experience very mild memory impairment that’s comparable to normal age-related memory loss.  Your loved one might forget familiar names, forget words, or frequently misplace things. Although your loved one might be aware of these memory slips, the changes are usually mild enough to go unnoticed by friends, family members and doctors. A person with age-associated memory impairment will be able to continue working, traveling, and managing daily tasks as usual.

Stage 3: Mild Cognitive Impairment

Memory loss may become noticeable to your loved one and those around them at this stage. Mild impairment shows up in a variety of ways. Your loved one may have trouble remembering recent events or activities, or the names of familiar people or things. Symptoms can also include difficulty following conversations, changes in mood or emotion, and mild problems with coordination. It’s time to see a health care provider when symptoms begin to interfere with day-to-day life.

Caregiver concerns: Although your loved one may be able to live independently at this stage with occasional help from friends or family, you may be thinking about how to support them as their needs increase. Caregiving in this stage focuses on adjusting to the changes and making plans for the future. Time frame: This stage can last 2 to 7 years.

Stage 4: Mild Dementia

In this stage, you may notice increased forgetfulness and problems with thinking and reasoning. Your loved one may forget what they had for lunch or struggle to recall the names of friends and family. As dementia affects communication skills, they may struggle to use the phone and may not engage as much in conversation. They may withdraw from social situations. Simple tasks may become more difficult, and they may need help paying bills and managing their finances.

Caregiver concerns: Safety becomes a larger concern in this stage. Start making plans now for the changes ahead, including exploring options for in-home nursing care or moving to a memory care community. Learning as much as you can about dementia care will make navigating next steps easier.  Time frame: The duration of this stage is about 2 years.

Stage 5: Moderate Dementia

Problems with memory, thinking and judgment worsen at this stage. Your loved one may forget how to do simple tasks like brushing their teeth or combing their hair. They may need help with getting dressed, making meals, or other activities of daily living. At this stage, it’s common to forget significant information like their address or major life events. As dementia progresses, your loved one may be confused about where they are or what day it is, and they may experience problems with orientation and wandering.

Caregiver concerns: Keeping your loved one safe becomes the top priority, as they’ll need 24/7 care and supervision at this stage. As a caregiver, it’s important to take care of yourself and seek emotional support from family members, a support group or counselor.
Time frame: The duration of this stage is 1.5 years on average.

Stage 6: Moderately Severe Dementia

The effects of dementia make it increasingly difficult to communicate and perform basic skills at this stage. There may be times when they don’t recognize family and friends. Anger, paranoia, wandering, eating problems, obsessive behaviors, hallucinations and incontinence may occur. Disturbed sleep patterns can lead to sleeplessness during the night and exhaustion during the day.

Caregiver concerns: Challenging behaviors like shouting, agitation, disturbed sleep, and repetitive behavior can make caregiving increasingly difficult. During this stage, it’s essential that your loved one has the support they need in a safe environment.
Time frame: This stage can last around 2.5 years.

Stage 7: Severe Dementia

Late-stage dementia brings devastating changes for patients and their families. Your loved one may lose the ability to communicate, walk, smile, swallow, or participate in personal care activities. They may be unable to recognize people, places and objects. Constant care will be needed In this stage, and hospice care can provide or extra support focused on pain management and comfort care near the end of life.

Caregiver concerns: Communicating with your loved one’s care team at a memory care community can help ensure your loved one is getting the support they need.
Time frame: This stage may last 1.5 to 2.5 years.

Supporting your family’s journey with Alzheimer’s

Freedom Village of Bradenton offers specialized, compassionate memory care services for all stages.
We understand the challenge and heartbreak that different stages of dementia can present, and the importance of having quality memory care and support every step of the way. Contact our team today to tour our memory care facility.