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Dementia Early Signs and Progression

Currently in the United States, there are over 5.8 million people living with dementia. While this number seems high, it is projected to increase to around 14 millions Americans suffering from dementia by 2050. With so many projected and current cases, it is important to understand what dementia is and to know the early warning signs.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a term that describes a group of severe symptoms that are associated with a sharp decline in memory and thinking skills. Unlike normal memory loss due to aging, dementia causes cognitive issues that affect everyday life negatively. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia that often affects older people over the age of 65. However, there are other types of dementia that can affect people as young as 45 years old. 

Dementia Early Warning Signs

While most older adults encounter short term memory loss as they age, dementia shows specific early warning signs that can begin affecting everyday life. These warning signs are:

  • Problem solving difficulty
  • Getting confused with the time and place
  • Problems with vision
  • Difficulty understanding or remembering special relationships
  • Problems with speaking or writing

Early signs may not be apparent to the person suffering from dementia, so it is important to keep an eye on parents and older loved ones as they age to look out for these warning signs. If you notice a parent or loved one showing these symptoms, it is important to seek medical consultation. While these symptoms can indicate dementia, they can also indicate other medical issues, such as medication challenges or hormonal imbalance issues.  

Dementia Progression

Dementia is often a  slow progressing disease that affects a person in different stages, usually with an early, or mild, stage, a middle, or moderate, stage, and a late, or severe, stage. While the symptoms in each stage are different, some stages can overlap making it difficult to place someone in a specific stage. 

Early (mild) Stage

In the early stage of dementia, a person can often function independently. They might still drive to and from work and may still participate in social groups and activities. Though the person may be independent, they may start noticing small slips in memory, such as:

  • Difficulty finding the right name or word
  • Difficulty remember new names
  • Difficulty performing tasks at work and in social settings
  • Forgetting material being read
  • Losing/misplacing valuable objects within the home
  • Difficulties with planning and organizing. 

Though these slips of memory can be a nuisance to the person experiencing them, people with dementia can generally live a good life in the early stages with proper medical care. 

Middle (Moderate) Stage

The middle stage of dementia is the longest stage and can last for years. As the dementia worsens, the person suffering from it will require greater levels of care and support. At the middle stage, dementia symptoms are more severe and more easily noticed by both the person with dementia and those around them. The dementia may begin making the person frustrated by their confusion and inability to express thoughts as they could before. Dementia patients at this stage may also express anger and frustration at the inability to perform tasks independently. 

Symptoms at this stage can include:

  • Forgetting important events or personal history
  • Feeling withdrawn
  • Inability to recall important information, such as their address or telephone number
  • Confusion about their day and location
  • Incontinence issues
  • Becoming lost or wandering more often
  • Personality and behavioral changes, such as becoming more suspicious or compulsive
  • Changes in sleep patterns

A person with middle stage dementia will require help and support to help them cope and navigate their disease, but they are still able to participate in some ways during their daily activities. Caregivers should find out what the patient with dementia can still do and find ways to allow independence throughout the day. 

Late (Severe Stage)

In the late, or final, stage of dementia, symptoms become severe. In this stage, the person loses most cognitive function and has trouble responding to their environment. Even things such as holding a conversation and controlling movement becomes impossible. While the person may be able to speak, they will most likely be unable to communicate pain or other needs and extensive care is needed. Symptoms of the final stage of dementia include:

  • Inability to complete or assist in daily personal care
  • Loss of awareness
  • Changes in physical abilities such as swallowing, walking, and sitting
  • Difficulty in communication
  • More vulnerable to infections, including pneumonia

The final stage of dementia is difficult, both for the person suffering from it and their loved ones. While the person with dementia may not be able to communicate and interact with the world around them, they may still benefit from interaction from family. Loved ones can play soft and relaxing music for dementia patients or reassure their presence through gentle touch. These small gestures can assure dementia patients that they are not alone and may even provide comfort to them. 

At the final stage, loved ones may consider hospice care, either in a hospital setting or home health setting. Hospice care ensures that people with dementia are treated with dignity and comfort at the end of their life. To find out more about our home-health hospice services, visit excelin.com/contact-us/.

Does your loved one suffer from Dementia?

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