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Signs and Effects of Dementia
Your life changes the minute you’re told that your loved one has dementia. It’s one of the leading causes of disability and dependency among older people all over the world, and it can be debilitating not just to your loved one, but to you and your family as well.
I was utterly overwhelmed when my Grandpa was diagnosed with dementia, and I know the rest of my family was too. The truth is that we had no awareness or understanding of what dementia was or the impact that it would have.
In the time that he’s been diagnosed, I’ve learned that my Grandpa’s dementia has impacted us all quite profoundly. We’ve felt its effects in most areas of our lives, so I wanted to write this article to share the signs of dementia with you.
This article will also explain the effects that these sings can have so that you, your family, and your loved one can be more prepared than we were.
Signs of Dementia
There are so many signs of dementia that trying to keep track of them all can quickly become overwhelming. I’ve done a fair bit of research because of my Grandpa, and have found that the most common signs of dementia.
Importantly, these signs appear at different times, depending on how severe your loved one’s dementia is.
In fact, dementia and its progression can be split into seven stages, and the signs of your loved one’s dementia get worse the further along they are in these stages.
Stages of Dementia
I’ve compiled a summary below to explain the seven different stages of dementia and highlight some of the most common effects you’ll see in your loved one at each stage:
This stage of dementia doesn’t have many signs, and it’s only once your loved one reaches stage three that symptoms of mild cognitive impairment emerge.
My Grandpa started showing decreased work performance, increased memory loss, driving difficulties, verbal repetition, trouble concentrating, trouble problem-solving, and difficulty managing complex tasks.
To break it down:
Stage 1 – No Cognitive Decline
- Functioning normally
- Has no memory loss and is mentally healthy
- No signs of dementia
Stage 2 – Very Mild Cognitive Decline
- Normal forgetfulness associated with aging
- Symptoms are not noticeable
Stage 3 – Mild Cognitive Decline
- Symptoms start becoming noticeable
- Increased forgetfulness
- Slight difficulty concentrating
- Decreased work performance
- May get lost more often
- May have trouble finding the right words
This stage of dementia lasts about two years. Your loved one will start to show signs of difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness of recent events. They may also have trouble socializing.
My Grandpa started misplacing objects, losing track of time, having increased feelings of anxiety, irritability, and depression, as well as greater trouble planning or organizing.
To break it down:
Stage 4 – Moderate Cognitive Decline
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decreased memory of recent events
- Difficulties managing finances
- Difficulties in traveling alone to new places
- Difficulty completing complex tasks efficiently or accurately
- May be denial about symptoms
- May start withdrawing from family or friends
This stage of dementia is characterized by more severe signs emerging.
My Grandpa started having problems sleeping and confused day and night. He also started behaving inappropriately in social settings and wandered due to difficulties with perception.
To break it down:
Stage 5 – Moderately Severe Cognitive Decline
- Major memory deficiencies
- Needs some assistance to complete daily activities
- More prominent memory loss that may include major relevant aspects of current life (e.g., time, day, location)
Stage 6 – Severe Cognitive Decline (Middle Dementia)
extensive assistance to carry out daily activities
- Starts to forget names of close family members
- Can only remember some details of earlier life
- Difficulty counting down from 10
- Difficulty finishing tasks
- Incontinence issues
- Declining speech ability
- Personality changes (e.g., delusions, compulsions, anxiety, and agitation)
This stage of dementia lasts about two and a half years. It’s during this stage that you’ll need to focus on providing comfort and quality of life to your loved one, and you may have to consider care options if you feel you aren’t coping.
My Grandpa has started having difficulty eating and swallowing, and we’ve noticed that he’s now increasingly vulnerable to infections like pneumonia.
To break it down:
Stage 7 – Very Severe Cognitive Decline (Late Dementia)
no ability to speak or communicate anymore
- Requires assistance with almost all activities (e.g., eating and going to the bathroom)
- Loss of psychomotor skills (e.g. ability to walk)
Effects of Dementia
Dementia is something that doesn’t just affect your loved one, but your entire family as well, and while it may sound a tad dramatic, my Grandpa’s diagnosis almost tore my family apart.
The worst thing about dementia is that it affects the quality of life. Everyone’s definition of quality of life is different, and what you value for your quality of life might be different from what I value for my quality of life.
I think one of the best ways to show the negative effect that dementia can have on quality of life is to explain it through my Grandpa and my family. For us, quality of life means:
- Being healthy (physically and mentally)
- Having comfortable and secure living arrangements
- Cultivating strong social relationships
- Adhering to our religious and spiritual beliefs
- Maintaining our cultural values
- Having a sense of community
- Being secure financially and economically
- Being able to think independently, make our own decisions, and have control over our daily lives
Given the signs of dementia I mentioned earlier, it’s clear to see that dementia can have a profound negative effect on your loved one and your family. We’ve had to make peace with the fact that my Grandpa no longer recalls his religious and spiritual beliefs, and that he no longer wants to socialize or be involved in the community.
As a family, it’s difficult for us to accept these changes, but not doing so means that we argue with my Grandpa unnecessarily and just cause him to become upset. It’s not worth it. We do our best to protect his finances and make him comfortable in our home, but we also make sure that we give him his independence (within reason), and allow him to make his own decisions.
Trust me; I get it. There’s a lot of information in this article, and your head’s probably reeling after reading it all.
The best thing you can do is go through the stages slowly and decide which stage your loved one is currently at. Doing this will determine their treatment and what you can do to assist them in their everyday lives.
It’s best if you contact a healthcare professional to help you make these important decisions so that you can map the best way forward together. It’s the best decision I ever made for my Grandpa, and we now have a dedicated team of people working with him to ensure that he’s as happy and as comfortable as he possibly can be.