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What Changes for People Who Have Dementia? Stages and Symptoms to Watch

If you have a loved one who was recently diagnosed with dementia, you may wonder what lies ahead. Caring for a loved one with dementia is a multi-faceted and often overwhelming experience, each day with the potential to challenge you differently. So let’s help you set better expectations for what to expect as you travel this journey together. What changes for people who have dementia? Let’s talk about it. Please note, if your loved one is experiencing changes in their memory or cognition, please consult with your loved one’s medical team for support, testing and referral to a neurologist if appropriate.


Stages of Dementia

There are several stages of dementia as it progresses that can help you determine where your loved one is today and where they might get to.

Stage of Dementia

Some Signs & Symptoms (Not Exclusive)

Early Stage Dementia

  • Having difficulty coming up with the right word or name of something familiar.

  • Struggling to remember names when introduced to new people.

  • Having difficulty performing tasks in social or work settings.

  • Forgetting recently read material.

  • Losing or misplacing valuable objects with increasing frequency.

  • Struggling more and more with planning and/or organizing.


Middle Stage Dementia

  • Forgetting major events or personal history.

  • Having a hard time or being completely unable to recall information about themselves (for example, memorized details like the university they attended or phone number)

  • Feeling confused about where they are.

  • Not remembering what day it is.

  • Struggling with basic logical connections (like forgetting to wear warm clothing in cold weather).

  • Incontinence.

  • Feeling moody or withdrawn.

  • Struggling with social situations.

  • Sleep pattern disruptions.

  • A tendency to wander or get lost.

  • Personality and behavioral changes, including “suspiciousness and delusions or compulsive, repetitive behavior like hand-wringing or tissue shredding.”

Late Stage Dementia

In late-stage dementia, your loved one may need around-the-clock care. They may show signs of: 


  • Struggling to hold awareness/memories of recent experiences or surroundings.

  • Struggling to move (like walk, stand, or sit)

  • Struggling to communicate.

  • Become increasingly vulnerable to infections, especially pneumonia.

Chart Information Source: Alz.org


Symptoms Your Loved One May Experience with Dementia

Some of the more noticeable changes to your loved one’s daily life may include changes to things like executive function, socialization, communication, daily skills, and memory. Let’s touch on each of these, next.


Executive Function and Daily Skills

Executive function is the ability to plan, organize, and complete tasks. (Source) It includes tasks like setting goals and making choices that rationally support them. As dementia progresses, these functions loosen, making it harder and harder to get even the most basic things done.


There are a lot of tasks we do each day that are done on autopilot. You don’t really have to think about the fact that your socks go on before your shoes, or that the key needs to go into the ignition before the car will start. You have memorized these tasks of executive function. As your loved one’s brain starts experiencing these changes, even the most basic tasks may be hard to complete.


Socialization

Dementia can have a profound impact on your loved one’s desire to socialize and their behavior within social events. Many dementia patients recognize their memory loss and may feel embarrassed or self-conscious about it, leading them to avoid or feel heightened stress during social events (even small ones). They may also start to withdraw or communicate less over time.


Socialization is essential for those with dementia for their mental well-being, but it can feel like a tricky thing to navigate for caregivers sensitive to their struggles. Some of the best ways you can communicate and help them through it include minimizing distractions, making an effort to use simpler sentences, and giving them space and time to respond in a conversation.


Communication and Memory

Memory loss is a hallmark sign of dementia and gets worse as the disease progresses. This is caused by the damage to the brain your loved one may experience – damage that makes it harder to reach and build memories. 


As your loved one’s illness progresses to later stages of dementia, they may start to lose their ability to communicate. It can become increasingly challenging both to speak what they mean, and understand what’s spoken to them.


These challenges may start with things like forgetting names, dates, places, recent events, and even old memories, struggling to come up with words for people and things they’re familiar with, and raising their voice to feel as though they’re communicating more effectively.


Closing Thoughts: Caring for Someone with Dementia in Orange County, CA

Dementia is a diagnosis that progresses for years. If you have been tasked with caring for someone with dementia and want help (whether it’s a new or an old diagnosis), the California Caregiver Resource Center of Orange County is here to provide assistance and guidance to help you do that. Check out our library of resources to help you navigate this experience. Together, we can navigate the healthcare landscape and help you provide the best possible care for your loved one(s).


Further Reading: Fitting in Fitness: Prioritizing Wellness as a Family Caregiver

From the emotional toll of witnessing a loved one's struggle up close to the physical and mental strain of continuous care, family caregivers navigate a complicated situation each day. As such, it can be hard to prioritize the caregiver’s own health. 


It’s easy for it to feel secondary to their loved one’s more pressing needs. In this article, we’ll look at why focusing on your health as a caregiver matters, how you and the loved one(s) in your care can benefit from prioritizing exercise each day, and how to incorporate it into your routine. Click here to read all about it.

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