According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is the general term used to define the decline in mental ability that is severe enough to impact daily life. While not a specific disease itself, it’s an overall term that describes the range of symptoms associated with memory loss or cognitive ability which reduces the capacity for completing everyday tasks and activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of the cases reported. The second-most common form is vascular dementia, which can occur after a stroke.
The symptoms of dementia will vary based on the type and the particular person with the disease. However, for it to be considered dementia, at least two core mental functions must be affected: memory, communication, ability to pay attention and focus, reasoning and judgment, or visual perception.
The Stages of Dementia and Treatments through Each
While the symptoms may vary, there are common stages of dementia that the affected individual will go through. Most dementias are progressive, meaning the symptoms start off mild and worsen as time passes.
While there is no cure for dementia and no specific therapy to slow the progression of the disease, certain dementia treatments can help alleviate some of the symptoms. These treatments will depend on the cause of the dementia, but in general, here are the stages of dementia and how they can be treated:
- Stage 1: No Impairment. In this stage, the individual is still able to function normally, and none of the symptoms of dementia interrupt daily living activities. It’s important to be proactive in this stage and make healthy living choices, like exercising regularly and eating a well-balanced diet rich in vitamins, as some lifestyle choices can help delay the onset or reduce the risk of dementia.
- Stage 2: Very Mild to Mild Impairment. You might begin to notice that your loved one is having more “senior moments” lately; forgetting where keys were placed or missing scheduled appointments. He or she may also show signs of social withdrawal or have trouble solving simple problems. In this stage, usually no treatment is necessary other than continuing to be as proactive as possible by living a healthy lifestyle. If you’re starting to become more concerned for your loved one’s well-being, make an appointment to see a physician. Early diagnosis also can help better treat the symptoms of dementia.
- Stage 3: Moderate Impairment. In this stage of dementia, your loved one probably needs some assistance with daily living activities. Disorientation with time and space, loss of short-term memory and forgetfulness, difficulty finding words or phrases are all common symptoms in this stage. The treatment for moderate dementia symptoms usually involves medications, such as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors like Donepezil, Rivastigmine and Galantamine which are all approved to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. These medications support communication among nerve cells by keeping acetylcholine levels high and can help delay the worsening of symptoms.
- Stage 4: Moderately Severe to Very Severe Impairment. As your loved one’s condition declines, he or she can no longer function independently. Extreme memory loss, changes in personality and behavior, severe mood swings, trouble with communication and disturbances in sleep are all common symptoms at this stage. Treatment for severe impairment can include the use of antipsychotic drugs to help deal with disruptive, aggressive behavior. A medication called memantine can also be used during this stage, which can help improve memory, attention, reason and language skills, as well as delay the worsening of symptoms. When your loved one has reached the very severe stage, palliative care is often used to help manage pain and improve quality of life in mind, body and spirit.
New treatments are continually being studied, including alternative treatments and natural remedies. As a caregiver, it’s important to be as educated as possible about what to expect when a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia so you can better prepare and plan for the future.
For more information about American Senior Communities, please visit www.ASCSeniorCare.com.