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What Are The 7 Stages of Dementia? Understanding the Progression

If you or your senior loved one has recently been diagnosed with a form of cognitive decline, you might be asking yourself, “What are the 7 stages of dementia?” Each person suffering from dementia is different, and the progression of the disease varies for everyone. But, every patient’s progression can be separated into 7 distinct stages.

Male patient tells the doctor about his health complaints

Learning these stages of dementia can help you and your loved ones prepare and be cognizant of the disease’s progression. Find out how to identify each stage and the symptomatic progression that accompanies each stage. And, see how care facilities can diagnose and treat the symptomatic progression of dementia in a clinical setting.

What are the 7 Stages of Dementia? How Does the Disease Progress?

If you find yourself wondering, “what are the 7 stages of dementia?” you or a loved one likely has received a diagnosis or has experienced a general state of progressive mental or cognitive impairment. Many people seek out an answer after their loved ones’ behavior has caused concern over whether symptoms of decline are showing. Or, maybe you are being preemptive on behalf of yourself or an elderly loved one, and want to make this transition in life as painless as possible.

Each person who suffers from dementia experiences a different rate of symptomatic progression. Some remain in a mild symptomatic state for a long time, whereas others experience a quick onslaught of symptomatic progression. Being able to identify when a transition between stages occurs can help you be a better caregiver to your loved one.

Alzheimer’s is the most common disease associated with dementia, but it is not the only one. The 7 stages of dementia represent the common progression of symptoms as observable in patients with Alzheimer’s. The ‘Global Deterioration Scale (GDS) was developed by Dr. Riesberg and others, which progresses thus:

1st Stage: No Cognitive Impairment

In the first stage of dementia, as observable through Alzheimer’s disease, the patient does not experience memory impairment or any other symptoms. For this reason, dementia is often overlooked and goes unrecognized. There are, however, several ways in which to diagnose the onset of Alzheimer’s in dementia patients before the onset of symptoms.  

2nd Stage: Very Mild Cognitive Decline

Many seniors experience occasional forgetfulness and lose things around their homes. It does not necessarily indicate the onset of dementia symptoms. In the second stage of dementia, the memory loss is so slight as to easily be mistaken for standard age-related behavior. Even at this stage, dementia often goes unrecognized and untreated.

3rd Stage: Mild Cognitive Decline

In the third stage of symptomatic progression, the memory loss begins to become evident to loved ones and friends. They might lose more important things, such as valuables. The patient will perform worse on memory tests, and cognitive impairment is often recognized by their physician.

Symptoms in the third stage of Alzheimer’s often manifest in the person having difficulty finding the correct words and other cognitive impairments to the conversation. They begin to have difficulty with standard organization and planning daily tasks and meetings. Short-term memory also becomes strained, and the patient might forget the names of people they recently met.

4th Stage: Moderate Cognitive Decline

The clear and undeniable signs of Alzheimer’s disease manifest in the fourth stage of symptomatic decline. In this stage, it is evident that your loved one is experiencing cognitive decline which affects their ability to perform daily tasks. Often, the symptoms accompanying the fourth stage include trouble with simple mathematics, remembering what they did earlier in the day, and altered details concerning long-term memories. Financial management is another common area of decline that is noticeable in the fourth stage of dementia.

5th Stage: Moderately Severe Cognitive Decline

Alzheimer’s disease progresses into the fifth stage of dementia with increased symptoms that affect memory. Patients will need help to perform many daily tasks, such as dressing, bathing, getting to appointments on time, and taking the proper doses of medication. Confusion becomes a significant symptom of memory loss in the fifth stage, and patients often cannot remember personal information, such as a phone number or their address.

Stage 5 can sometimes be more moderate, and patients can still bathe and eat by themselves. In this stage, memory loss has not progressed to the extent that they cannot remember the names of loved ones. Patients still retain foundational long-term memories about their youth and personal history, though details might become slightly off.

6th Stage: Severe Mental and Cognitive Decline

In the sixth stage, people suffering from Alzheimer’s cannot be left unattended and need consistent help with personal care. Confusion about their surroundings is more pronounced and regular. In this stage, the individual experiences significant trouble identifying and recognizing familiar faces, except for close loved ones. Memory loss regarding an individual’s details also becomes more evident.

The symptomatic decline extends to impairing the individual’s ability to control their bladder and they often need help to bathe and use the toilet. In this stage, your loved one might experience a major change in behavior and personality, which manifests with increasing frequency. Wandering is a common symptom of individuals in stage 6 of dementia.

7th Stage: Very Severe Decline

The final of the 7 stages of dementia is severe and terminal. In the seventh stage, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease lose the ability to communicate and respond to communication. Memory impairment is encompassing and definite at this stage of decline, and patients no longer retain the knowledge of their condition. Physical motor functions and tasks, such as swallowing become harder and can eventually require constant assistance from a caregiver or skilled nurse. 

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease that eventually causes death, and the progression is difficult to witness for loved ones and close friends. But caregivers are the greatest gift and mercy to someone going through the degenerative stages of the disease. If you want more information on what the 7 stages of dementia are or information on caring for someone with cognitive impairment, talk to a Cass County Medical Care Facility associate, today.