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Guide by Condition: Dementia

Posted by Jamie McKay on December 10, 2018

Understanding and living with dementia

Guide by Condition: Dementia

The Alzheimer's Society reports there are currently 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today and approximately 42,000 of these people have young onset dementia, which affects people under the age of 65.

What is dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term that is used to describe a range of progressive neurological conditions that affect the brain. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia although there are many different types. Some people can have a combination of types, but regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience dementia in their own unique way.

The four most common types of dementia are:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Frontotemporal
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies

It affects both men and women, however, women are more likely to develop Alzheimer's and men are more likely to develop vascular dementia. 

It is important that once an accurate diagnosis has been made, the appropriate advice, support, and treatment is given so that the person with dementia can start planning for their future. 

What are the stages of dementia? 

Dementia is a slowly progressing condition and the dementia journey can usually last several years, people have been known to live for 20 years with the condition. Having some idea of what changes come with dementia can be useful for the person with dementia and the family around them. 

A general overview of the stages of dementia  -

  • Early stage - In the early stage, symptoms tend to be mild. Despite being quite forgetful most people can still live independently and continue with their normal regimes such as driving and working. Memory aids, medication reminders, and simplified phones can help people in the early stages of dementia.
  • Middle stage - The middle stage is the longest and can usually last for many years. Symptoms such as forgetfulness and confusion can become more pronounced and common with changes in mood and may need more help and support with daily life. Safety aids and fall prevention around the home may become necessary. 
  • Late stage - During the later stage of the dementia journey, most people may find the person with dementia may not talk or communicate very much, often described as "in a world of their own" and will need round-the-clock care. As they will need more day-to-day care, many people with dementia in the later stages will move into a care home or have constant supervision at home. Changes in personality and more frequent confusion will occur which can be upsetting and difficult to cope with for family, however, they will often still know and recognise those closest to them. The very late or end stages of dementia are often classified as "very severe decline", some don't reach this stage, and often people pass away before this happens due to other health conditions. However, if the person does reach this stage, although they tend to no longer really know what's happening, providing the best support and care will keep them comfortable and calm. Specialist dementia aids and sensory aids can provide comfort and stimulation for the user.

The stages of dementia are well documented and researched however it is advised by medical professionals, that if you have been diagnosed with dementia, to not dwell or think too much about which stage you may be at. Everyone with dementia experiences it differently, some people will move slowly through stages and quicker through others. It is most important to focus on where you are now and what you can do and plan for the future so that you and those around you can be more prepared for the changes that come with dementia. 

Living well with dementia

After a diagnosis of dementia, the key to living well with the condition is finding a good quality of life, for each person, this can be different. This could be things like keeping a normal routine, socialising with friends and family, listening to music, or taking part in leisure activities. Despite the changes and loss of some abilities, people living with dementia can still find pleasure and experience satisfaction in their daily lives. With the right support, living well can mean staying connected and engaged, being productive, content, stimulated, safe and healthy. If you are providing care for a loved one, no matter which stage of their dementia journey they are at, it's important to take these factors into account and ensure that they are happening as they can be. Our guide to understanding dementia behaviour and dementia care can help with looking after a loved one with dementia. 

For more information on dementia & Alzheimer's support-