Dementia is not a single disorder, but rather, a spectrum of symptoms of cognitive decline, involving impairment in communication, memory and thinking. The disease involves several stages that each exhibit their own unique indicators and severity of symptoms.
Learn more about dementia and its stages, its symptoms and the treatment options for the disease.
Here is a description of each of the stages of dementia:
Stage 0: No adverse changes in the brain or symptoms of the disease are present.
Stage 1: Some changes in the brain have started to occur and some symptoms of disease (such as memory loss) are present. This stage, known as pre-clinical Alzheimer’s, can last 20 years or more.
Stage 2: This stage involves mild memory issues also known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI). With MCI, a person may be inhibited by their memory problems but still be independent enough to self-care.
Stage 3: The most severe stage, also known as Alzheimer’s-dementia, involves changes in a person’s communication, judgment, personality and thinking skills and a decline in memory.
It’s important to note that the term “dementia” is considered a collective term, referring to different symptoms of cognitive decline. The disease can also be divided into three different categories that include a “mild,” “moderate” and “severe” phase.
One of the defining characteristics of dementia is that a person in the most severe stage of the disease is no longer able to perform activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, dressing, preparing meals, toileting, etc.
The American Family Physicians Journal published these signs which may indicate a person has dementia:
- Difficulty following a storyline
- Mild personality changes
- Repeating ideas, stories and thoughts
- Becoming increasingly more agitated
- Requires more help with ADLs
- Possible sleep disturbances
- Significant changes in personality (such as becoming suspicious)
- A difficulty with simple tasks such as sitting up independently
- Full-time care may be required for basic needs
- Loss of ability to communicate
- Loss of bladder control
Other symptoms of dementia can include:
- Asking the same question repeatedly.
- Fearfulness, irritability or suspiciousness.
- Forgetting familiar or simple words.
- Getting lost in a familiar area.
- Lack of motivation.
- Misplacing items that are later found in strange places (like finding the cell phone in the refrigerator).
- Problems with abstract thinking (such as calculating a tip at a restaurant).
- Recent memory loss.
- Unable to complete a task that is familiar (such as balancing a checkbook).
- Unexplained mood changes.
- Using the wrong words in a sentence.
- Worsening of symptoms with age.
Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia (LBD), Parkinson’s disease or vascular dementia, treatments using medication or prevention measures can address dementia symptoms:
Drugs that help reduce symptoms of dementia are called “cholinesterase inhibitors,” which can also help with the behavioral symptoms of the disease. These include:
- Donepezil (brand name Aricept)
- Galantamine (Reminyl)
- Rivastigmine (Exelon)
- Tacrine (Cognex)
Memantine (Namenda), an NMDA receptor antagonist, is another classification of drugs that may help treat symptoms of dementia, used alone or combined with a cholinesterase inhibitor.
Once a person is diagnosed with dementia, there is no way to slow the progression of the disease. Some medical experts are hopeful that prevention measures could address the rising incidence of the disease.
Some risk factors for dementia include:
- Alcohol use
- Atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries (risk can be prevented with a low cholesterol diet and exercise)
- Management of high blood pressure
- Management of high cholesterol
- High levels of homocysteine, a type of amino acid
It is estimated that 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia. Though the damage caused by dementia cannot be reversed, prevention of dementia is an effective treatment modality, for now. Trying to control lifestyle factors that reduce obesity and seeing a health care provider regularly are a few of the primary strategies for lowering the future incidence of dementia.
Which dementia symptoms or treatment options were you most surprised to see? We’d like to hear your stories about dementia in the comments below.