Dementia Care: How Early Dementia Progresses

Dementia isn’t a disease, rather it is a term used to describe a collection of symptoms that can include memory loss and confusion. It is a progressive condition with three stages; early, middle and late. Learning h can help you recognise the onset of decline. One of the most common types of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, and others include Lewy Body and Vascular dementia. Here is how early dementia progresses and the signs and symptoms that are part of that progression.

It’s important to note that even though dementia has three stages, each individual will experience them differently. Dementia is a very fluid condition so there are no hard and fast rules about when a person will move from one stage to another. Some symptoms may appear in several stages, while others might not occur at all. Dementia occurs gradually and results in a slow worsening of symptoms as the chemistry of the brain and its structure are damaged. Dementia will reduce the person’s ability to:

  • Communicate.
  • Remember people, places and things.
  • Understand conversations, concepts and directions.
  • Reason.

Behaviors and moods will also change across the three stages of dementia.

Early stage dementia: The Alzheimer’s Society says there is “good evidence” that by the time people exhibit signs of dementia, the disease has existed for many years in their brain. The initial symptoms of dementia such as forgetfulness and difficulty retrieving words can be taken as signs of normal ageing, until they begin to occur more regularly and effect activities of daily living. The signs and symptoms of early stage dementia include:

  • Memory problems such as forgetting recent events or repeating the same question over and over again.
  • Lapses in reasoning, planning or problem-solving with trouble thinking things through to logical conclusions.
  • Short attention spans that make the person easily distracted.
  • Language impairments including taking longer to find the right word or an inability to call an object by its name (i.e. toaster, car etc.).
  • Changes in visual depth perception which causes trouble navigating stairs or judging distances.
  • Putting objects in the wrong place, i.e. car keys in the freezer, ice cream in the kitchen cabinet.

In the early stages of dementia, your loved one may realize these memory losses are increasing and as a result become depressed or anxious. It is important to reassure and comfort them.

Middle stage dementia: As dementia progresses into the middle stage personality, behavioural and memory changes will become more noticeable.

  • Your loved one will need more help and support with daily activities like grooming and personal hygiene.
  • He or she may forget to wash, eat or use the toilet.
  • Memory loss increases and may include an inability to recognise people.
  • Forgetfulness may cause your loved one to not take medication, get lost, turn on burners and not turn them off, etc.
  • Mood and behaviour changes become more distinct and may result in outbursts, anger, frustration, or aggressive behaviour.


Late-stage dementia: At this stage people will need almost complete help with daily living. They may require full-time nursing care. They may become non-verbal. They will be physically weak, will have significant trouble walking alone and may need a wheelchair. Other signs of late-stage dementia include:

  • Inability to recognise loved ones.
  • Trouble eating and swallowing.
  • Significant weight loss.
  • Incontinence may begin to occur.
  • Behaviour changes and may include restlessness, as if searching for someone.
  • Angry outbursts or depression.
  • Feeling threatened.
  • An inability to know where they are, time of day, etc.

Despite the difficult nature of these symptoms, it is important to remember that when you are with a loved one who suffers from dementia, he or she will respond to a kind word and a comforting touch. Understanding how to communicate with someone who has dementia can be hard, but it is still possible. It is important to soothe and reassure your loved one regardless of the stage of dementia they are in.

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