Dementia is a broad term used to describe symptoms that are commonly attributed to neurodegenerative disorders, memory loss, and disruptions in cognitive function. It isn’t a specific disease itself, but several diseases can cause symptoms associated with dementia.
There are 3 stages of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Dementia.org adds additional sub-stages to those resulting in a total of 7 stages. Understanding the various stages of dementia and how they can affect a person’s daily life is helpful to what can seem like an out-of-control process. These stages include:
1. Early-stage Alzheimer’s
2. Middle-stage Alzheimer’s
Throughout this stage, changes in behavior will occur. Individuals may experience depression, anxiety, irritability, and repetitive behaviors. As the disease progresses, other changes may occur, including sleep changes, physical and verbal outbursts, and wandering.
3. Late-stage Alzheimer’s
While a person may be able to function in their day-to-day life during the early stages of dementia, as they reach stages 4 or 5, it is often beneficial to seek professional support. Speaking with a qualified professional can help you determine what type of support is best for you and your family and what your insurance (including Long Term Care benefits) will help pay for if anything.
While Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of a progressive dementia, there are many diseases that can cause cognitive decline and the symptoms associated with dementia. These different diseases and types of dementia may include:
Generally speaking, diseases that affect cognition, neuroplasticity, and brain abnormalities fall under the umbrella of dementia. The cause of these diseases isn’t always clear. Their onset may result from genetic disorders, general health decline due to aging, continuous exposure to heavy metals or other neurotoxins, an unhealthy diet, or a traumatic brain injury.
As mentioned, the various stages of dementia affect the severity of symptoms. These symptoms tend to worsen throughout the 7 stages of dementia.
Permanent Cognitive Symptoms:
Permanent Psychological Symptoms:
Scientists and neurological experts continue to study the brain, its neuroplasticity, the potential causes of cognitive decline, and possible treatments for neurodegenerative diseases. While many of these diseases are not curable, health experts suggest that a good quality of life and available treatments may lessen or slow down the effects and symptoms associated with dementia. New medications are being researched and evaluated by the FDA as they are developed. On January 6, 2023, a new drug called lecanemab was given accelerated approval by the FDA for people in early-stage dementia to help slow progression of the symptoms. While the drug appears to show clear positive effects in slowing the progression, it needs to go through many more clinical trials. It, like most drugs, also has contraindications and side effects, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for everyone.
Noticing cognitive decline or dementia symptoms in a loved one is scary. However, other illnesses can mimic the symptoms of dementia. Oftentimes, an early diagnosis and proper treatment can alleviate and potentially reverse cognitive decline. These reversible conditions may include the following:
The signs and symptoms may become more apparent to friends and family members during stages 4 and 5 of dementia. As described above, it is recommended to see a doctor to receive a Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) as soon as any symptoms of cognitive decline appear. It is essential to receive a proper diagnosis from a medical professional before coming to a conclusion since other reversible conditions, such as medication or infection, may be mistaken for dementia.
Please reach out with any questions, and have a Happy and Healthy 2023!
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