Understanding the Seven Stages of Dementia

September 28, 2023 | Alzheimer's & Dementia

“No, I told you I put it right here,” she argued.

I smiled and took a deep breath. “I’m sure you did, Mrs. Tompkins. Let’s keep looking.” As we searched her apartment looking for her glasses yet again, my heart sank just a little. Another resident was showing early signs of dementia. About one in nine people over 65 in the U.S. has some form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Fifty percent of people in assisted living or long-term care have some form of dementia. Almost everyone has known someone affected by dementia or someone whose loved one has been affected.

What is Dementia?

People not in the senior care field tend to see dementia as a diagnosis. Dementia is not one disease. It is an umbrella term that covers several conditions, including vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and more. The most prevalent is Alzheimer’s disease. In other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, ALS, and Huntington’s disease, dementia can be a symptom. Sometimes dementia is not related to a disease at all. If a person has a lifelong history of alcohol and drug use, it could cause permanent dementia. Also, traumatic or recurrent brain injuries (like those suffered by athletes who get hit repeatedly in the head) can cause dementia.

What Are the Seven Stages of Dementia?

Dementia affects every person differently. There’s an old saying, “If you’ve met one person with dementia, you’ve met one person with dementia.” Two people who are diagnosed with the same type of dementia on the same day and are the same age and gender will progress at different rates. Doctors tend to identify seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Stage 1: There is no noticeable memory loss, signs or symptoms. Dementia is typically not diagnosed at this stage, but cognitive and functional decline can be imminent depending on various risk factors.

Stage 2: This stage is often referred to as “old-timers disease.” The patients tend to misplace or lose things, forget their words, or forget why they entered a room. It may be that they are simply getting older and slowing down, but it may be early signs of dementia as well. In Stage 2, a person is perfectly capable of caring for themselves.

Stage 3: People begin to notice that something is amiss. The person may struggle to communicate because they forget what they’re saying or can’t find the words. They ask the same question repeatedly. They start to notice that something is not right. This is when we recommend talking to a doctor about the changes in their behavior or cognitive ability. Unfortunately, if the person is having a good day, he or she may pass the test with flying colors and not receive a diagnosis at the time. It’s usually not until Stage 4 that a person can be diagnosed.

Stage 4: Patients tend to start struggling with everyday activities such as using the phone, washing dishes, doing laundry, and handling their medications.

When an independent living resident at CC Young begins to struggle with meals, medications, or memory, we will conduct an assessment and recommend moving into assisted living, where staff in The Hillside and Vista residences can provide the additional support needed with daily living activities. For those who do not want to move out of their home, we recommend our private care staff as a means of support. Private care can come in-home – be it on or off the CC Young campus – to help the individual remain as independent as possible.

Stage 5: At this point, the person struggles to get by each day. They must be prompted to get dressed, brush their hair and teeth, eat meals, and stay active throughout the day. They can still be productive and fulfilled, but having someone there to help guide them makes a huge difference.

I worked at a different community where a person with Stage 5 dementia was in independent living. She was depressed, losing weight, lonely, and unsafe. After many conversations, the family decided to move her to a memory care unit. A few years later, I transferred to the memory care unit and was amazed and pleased by her transformation. She was laughing, smiling, making friends, eating well, and thriving. Having her at the right level of care made all the difference in her quality of life.

Stage 6: At this stage, the person can genuinely no longer take care of themselves. Incontinence is typically a problem, and they require long-term care or full-time assistance. This level of care is available at The Vista at CC Young or through a private caregiver.

Stage 7: This is the final stage. At this point, the person is no longer able to do much for themselves. They may not be able to talk anymore or feed themselves. Even things like swallowing can become a problem, requiring thickened liquids and pureed food.

How Can CC Young’s Memory Care Services Help?

As a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), we have the privilege of walking with people through all of these stages. We recognize the signs early and can recommend the right amount of help for the right person. In the nine years I have been at CC Young, I have walked with residents through each level of care – from independent living to assisted living to memory support and Long-Term Care, and finally, hospice. It’s an honor to walk with them through each stage. I know their interests and preferences and can help reaffirm their identity when dementia takes it from them.

One of our independent living residents loved to dance, so when she came to long-term care, we made sure that we played her favorite songs so she could continue to dance. Another woman adored dogs and was heartbroken when she could no longer care for hers. We made sure to have our pet therapy team bring dogs to visit her as often as possible. When entering memory support in East Dallas at CC Young, we assess each person to learn as much as possible about their life and do our best to ensure respect and dignity are given through the many stages of life.

Learn more about CC Young’s compassionate memory care services in Dallas, TX.

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