Most forms of dementia are degenerative, although the cognitive decline does not happen all at once. Medical science has broken down dementia into seven distinguishable stages, each more severe than the one before it.
Stage 1: Normal Functioning
At this stage of dementia development, a patient generally does not exhibit any significant problems with memory. Patients are able to take cognitive and behavioral tests with medically licensed professionals without showing any evidence for the onset of dementia. As may be expected, at this stage, the disease goes almost completely unnoticed.
Stage 2: Very Mild Degeneration
This stage features occasional lapses of memory, which can be anything from the failed attempt to recall a specific word that was once familiar, or forgetting where he or she placed an everyday object. Oftentimes, this is merely age-related cognitive decline, but it can also be the earliest signs of degenerative dementia. At this stage, signs are still virtually undetectable through normal testing.
Stage 3: Mild Degeneration
In this stage, dementia is diagnosed in many patients. Loved ones and colleagues may start noticing a person’s cognitive difficulties, including more trouble with language recall, difficulty forming new memories or remembering new people, having trouble at work or difficulty with tasks that were once easy, or noticeable difficulty with planning and organizing. Medical interviews may be able to determine whether this is dementia.
Stage 4: Moderate Degeneration
With moderate degeneration, patients may frequently forget recent events. They may also struggle with basic math, performing complex tasks, or forgetting significant events in his or her personal history. At this stage, individuals may start to become socially withdrawn and more moody. A medical interview should detect symptoms of dementia at this stage.
Stage 5: Moderately Severe Degeneration
By this stage, patients will begin needing help with daily tasks, and the gaps in their thinking and memory will become even more noticeable. Patients may become disoriented about the time and place, have trouble making decisions, and forget basic information about themselves such as a telephone number or address.
Stage 6: Severe Degeneration
In the sixth stage, there may be significant changes in an individual’s personality and behavior. Patients will begin to lose awareness of their environment and fail to recall their personal history. They may begin to forget names of significant people (like family members), but still recognize familiar faces. Patients will need help with basic tasks like dressing properly or using the toilet. Patients may begin to wander, have difficulty sleeping, and in some cases will experience delusions and hallucinations.
Stage 7: Very Severe Degeneration
In the final stage, individuals are unable to respond to their surroundings, and can lose control of their movement. Speech is difficult and sparse. Reflexes will become abnormal, and the patient will require almost constant care.
By identifying the earliest stages of dementia as they occur, you may be able to seek medical treatment quickly and delay the onset of later stages. The more aware you are of these stages, the quicker you will be able to react and seek help.