Dementia diagnosis does have different stages, but it is important to note that each person will have an individualized experience with the disease. While some may be in one stage for a long time, others may seem to quickly bypass certain stages and move to an advanced stage of the disease.
Why is knowing the stages of dementia diagnosis important? This information is vital to planning for your loved one’s future. An individual can go from an early stage and being able to live on their own to being unable to care for themselves or make legal decisions within a period of a few years. Knowing the stages of dementia can allow you to look for warning signs, get your loved one the help he/she needs, and also prepare legally and financially for the progression of the disease. There is a wide range of variability within the stages themselves.
Stage 1 is actually considered no impairment. Your loved one has no noticeable memory loss and is completely functioning. This can be a great relief to you if you were worried that your loved one losing their keys or forgetting what day it is was something more than old age. This is also, however, a good stage to discuss estate planning, designating medical and financial Powers of Attorney, and getting legal documentation in order with the help of a lawyer. Even if everything seems fine, things can quickly change and it is always better to plan ahead with your loved ones while they are legally capable of making their own decisions.
Stage 2 is often referred to as questionable or very mild impairment. This may mean that your loved one has trouble solving problems, suffer forgetfulness at work or at social activities, and misplaces things more often than what is to be expected. Timing and the concept of time may also be an issue. The most important thing to know about this stage, however, is that people are still able to care for themselves and make their own decisions.
Stage 3 is mild or early impairment. This stage is when personal care may begin to suffer without oversight. You might notice a loved one has trouble paying bills and balancing their checkbook, has issues with taking their medication, or is confused while driving. This stage has a wide variety of other symptoms as well, such as moodiness and a lack of enjoyment in social activities. If your loved one is at this stage, it is critical to get legal directives in place before they are unfit to sign legal documents. Difficult conversations may ensue, but it is much better to get a plan in place now before the disease progresses further.
Stage 4 is the moderate or middle stage of dementia in which your loved one can no longer be unaccompanied in public and need assistance at home as well. Routine chores may no longer be able to be completed. Short term memory suffers the most and attempting to recall recent events can be stressful or impossible. The body begins to physically be impacted as well and incontinence may be one of the symptoms. The concept of time also becomes difficult for your loved one to understand and events may get confused.
Stage 5 is severe or late stage dementia. It is at this point that your loved one cannot function without assistance. They may not recognize their family members, begin losing their speech, and even have difficulty eating and swallowing. Physically, the ability to walk may be affected as well as continued issues with incontinence. The immune system may also be impacted and the ability to fight infection can become impaired.
At Stage 4 and 5, people usually lose the legal ability to make their own decisions. Unfortunately, sometimes families wait until the disease has progressed this far to become involved. This makes the legal issues of Power of Attorney and Advanced Medical Directives difficult as the loved one diagnosed with dementia may be unable to assign the family member of their choosing because they are unfit to make those decisions at this point.
Early detection and planning is key in regards to the stages of dementia. Working with a doctor to determine your loved one’s needs can help the family plan both medically and financially for the future.