Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking, behavior and social abilities severely enough to affect activities of daily living. Simply, dementia is brain failure. The symptoms of dementia seem to worsen over time, but the rate of progression varies with each individual.
According to the World Health Organization, the number of people living with dementia worldwide is currently estimated at 47 million and is projected to increase to 75 million by 2030. The number of cases of dementia is estimated to almost triple by 2050.
Typically, dementia begins with some mild cognitive decline, not associated with simple age-related forgetfulness. A person has moments of memory loss with increased frequency, such as identifying names of familiar objects or forgetting recent conversations.
In the early stages of dementia, the person might experience difficulty in performing certain tasks, such as following a recipe or being able to pay bills. Most often, the person realizes he or she is experiencing cognitive decline, but might try to hide the symptoms.
Depending on the type of dementia, some individuals may have language and communication difficulties, while others experience more loss of memory or movement.
In the mild or moderate stage of dementia, the person will have great difficulty in hiding the symptoms. As dementia progresses, he or she will need assistance with self-care and everyday activities. Additionally, changes in personality become more apparent, and he or she most likely cannot remember his or her address, phone number or other pertinent personal information. And, sleep patterns change considerably.
In the late or severe stage of dementia, he or she will not recognize family members or familiar caregivers. The progression of this neurodegenerative disorder significantly impairs memory and the ability to communicate, walk or control bowel and bladder function. Further, in this late stage, muscle rigidity and abnormal reflexes occur. The affected individual needs fulltime personal care during this time. He or she will be more prone to infections, including pneumonia, and, because of immobility, the risk of bedsores is very high.
Late-stage dementia can be very challenging for the person and his or her caregivers as more round-the-clock care is necessary. Professional and/or private home caregiver services and hospice are good resources available for support during late- and end-stage dementia.
While it is helpful knowing the stages of dementia, it is important to note dementia is unique to each individual. Caregivers should make the necessary lifestyle adaptations while remaining flexible about meeting their loved one's needs as the disease progresses.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at firstname.lastname@example.org.