Dementia is a decline in cognitive function. To be considered dementia, mental impairment must affect at least two brain functions. Dementia may affect:
Dementia is not a disease. It may be caused by a variety of illnesses or injuries. Mental impairment may range from mild to severe. It may also cause personality changes.
Some dementias are progressive. This means they get worse over time. Some dementias are treatable or even reversible. Some experts restrict the term dementia to irreversible mental deterioration.
In its early stages, dementia can cause symptoms, such as:
Not coping well with change. You may have a hard time accepting changes in schedules or environment.
Subtle changes in short-term memory-making. You or a loved one can remember the events of 15 years ago like it was yesterday, but you cannot remember what you had for lunch.
Reaching for the right words. Word recollection or association may be more difficult.
Being repetitive. You may ask the same question, complete the same task, or tell the same story multiple times.
Confused sense of direction. Places you once knew well may now feel foreign. You may also struggle with driving routes you’ve taken for years because it no longer looks familiar.
Struggling to follow storylines. You may find following a person’s story or description difficult.
Changes in mood. Depression, frustration, and anger are not uncommon for people with dementia.
Loss of interest. Apathy may occur in people with dementia. This includes losing interest in hobbies or activities that you once enjoyed.
Confusion. People, places, and events may no longer feel familiar. You might not remember people who know you.
Difficulty completing everyday tasks. You may struggle to recall how to do tasks you’ve done for many years.
Memory problems are not always a sign of dementia. These 10 early signs may indicate you are experiencing a decline in memory and mental ability.
Stages of Dementia
In most cases, dementia is progressive, getting worse over time. Dementia progresses differently in everyone. However, most people experience symptoms of the following stages of dementia:
Mild Cognitive Impairment
Older individuals may develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI) but may never progress to dementia or any other mental impairment. People with MCI commonly experience forgetfulness, trouble recalling words, and short-term memory problems.
At this stage, people with mild dementia may be able to function independently. Symptoms includes:
Short-term memory lapses
Personality changes, including anger or depression
Misplacing things or forgetfulness
Difficulty with complex tasks or problem solving
Struggling to express emotions or ideas
At this stage of dementia, people impacted may need assistance from a loved one or care provider. That is because dementia may now interfere with daily tasks and activities. Symptoms include:
Increasing confusion and frustration
Memory loss that reaches further into the past
Needing help with tasks like dressing and bathing
Significant personality changes
At this late stage of dementia, the mental and physical symptoms of the condition continue to decline. Symptoms include:
inability to maintain bodily functions, including walking and eventually swallowing and controlling bladder
inability to communicate
requiring full-time assistance
increased risk for infections
People with dementia will progress through the stages of dementia at different rates. Understanding the stages of dementia can help you prepare for the future.