Summer Sizzler Special! Ask us how you can save up to $15,000! Learn More.
*Some restrictions may apply. Not to be combined with any other offer. New leases signed in July only.

Understanding the 7 Stages of Dementia

Date: July 02, 2024 | Article | Reading Time: 7 minutes

Watching a loved one navigate the complexities of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia can be overwhelming. It’s a journey filled with questions, uncertainties, and a range of emotions. But you’re not alone. Many families face similar challenges, and understanding the stages of dementia can provide valuable clarity and guidance.

This guide will walk you through the 7 stages of dementia, shedding light on the typical progression of signs and symptoms you might observe in your loved one. It’s important to remember that every individual’s experience with dementia is unique, and the rate of progression can vary. 

With knowledge comes empowerment. By understanding the stages of dementia, you’ll be better equipped to anticipate your family member’s needs, adapt to changes, and provide the support they deserve.

The Reisberg Scale: A Framework for Understanding Dementia

The seven stages of dementia we’ll be discussing are based on the Reisberg Scale, also known as the Global Deterioration Scale (GDS)

Developed by Dr. Barry Reisberg, this scale provides a framework for understanding the progressive decline associated with dementia. It’s a valuable tool for both healthcare professionals and families, helping them assess an individual’s cognitive and functional abilities.

The Reisberg Scale ranges from Stage 1 (No Cognitive Decline) to Stage 7 (Very Severe Cognitive Decline). Each stage is characterized by specific symptoms and challenges, reflecting the gradual loss of memory, language, and daily living skills. By understanding where your loved one falls on this scale, you can better anticipate their needs and provide appropriate care and support.

Stage 1: No Cognitive Decline

In the earliest stage of dementia, there are typically no noticeable symptoms. Your loved one may appear and feel completely normal. They’re able to engage in conversations, perform daily tasks, and maintain their usual routines without difficulty. Memory and cognitive function remain intact.

Regular medical checkups and cognitive assessments can help detect any early signs of dementia that might not be obvious in everyday life. 

If you notice any subtle changes in the cognitive abilities of your loved one, it’s important to talk to your loved one’s doctor. Early detection can lead to timely interventions and support that can help manage the progression of dementia.

Stage 2: Very Mild Cognitive Decline

During this stage, your loved one may begin to experience minor memory lapses or forgetfulness. These are often subtle and might be easily dismissed as normal signs of aging.

Common examples of Stage 2 include:

  • Misplacing items like keys or glasses
  • Forgetting names or appointments
  • Having difficulty finding the right word in conversation

Although these lapses can be frustrating, it’s important to remember that they don’t necessarily indicate dementia. Stress, fatigue, and distractions can also contribute to memory problems. However, if you notice a pattern of forgetfulness that seems unusual for your loved one, it’s worth discussing it with their doctor.

Even though the changes in this stage are often mild, it’s a good time to offer gentle support and encouragement. Help your loved one stay organized with calendars and reminders, engage in mentally stimulating activities, and maintain social connections. These strategies can help maintain cognitive function and emotional well-being.

Stage 3: Mild Cognitive Decline

In this stage, the challenges associated with memory and cognitive function become more noticeable. Your loved one might experience increased difficulty with tasks that require planning, organization or problem-solving. They may also have trouble recalling recent events or conversations.

Common examples of changes in Stage 3 include:

  • Difficulty concentrating or following complex instructions
  • Struggling to manage finances or medications
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Repeating questions or stories
  • Noticeable changes in mood or personality

These changes can be unsettling for both your loved one and your family. It’s important to remain patient and supportive while acknowledging the challenges they’re facing. Offer assistance with tasks as needed but also encourage them to maintain as much independence as possible.

Stage 4: Moderate Cognitive Decline

As dementia progresses to Stage 4, the challenges with memory and cognitive function become more pronounced. Your loved one may experience increased difficulty with daily tasks, such as managing finances, preparing meals or maintaining personal hygiene. They may also have trouble recognizing familiar faces or remembering significant events from their past.

Common examples of changes in Stage 4 include:

  • Difficulty with complex tasks, such as paying bills or following recipes
  • Increased forgetfulness about recent events or conversations
  • Confusion about time or place
  • Changes in mood or behavior, such as withdrawal or agitation
  • Difficulty adapting to new situations

These changes can make it challenging for your loved one to live independently. They may require more assistance with activities of daily living and decision-making. It’s important to create a safe and supportive environment where they feel loved and respected.

Consider exploring care options that can provide the level of support your loved one needs. This might involve enrolling in an adult day program or considering a memory care community like The Delaney® Green. These options can help ensure your loved one receives the care they need while maintaining their dignity and independence.

Stage 5: Moderately Severe Cognitive Decline

In Stage 5, dementia significantly impacts your loved one’s ability to perform activities of daily living and to live independently. They may require assistance with basic tasks such as bathing, dressing, and using the restroom. Memory loss becomes more pronounced, and they may have difficulty remembering important details about their lives, such as their address or phone number.

Common examples of changes in Stage 5 include:

  • Increased confusion and disorientation
  • Difficulty recognizing familiar people
  • Significant memory loss, including forgetting names, faces, and personal history
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as wandering at night
  • Increased agitation, anxiety or depression

During this stage, it’s crucial to provide a safe and structured environment for your loved one. Establishing routines and maintaining familiar surroundings can help reduce confusion and agitation. Consider seeking professional help to manage behavioral changes and ensure your loved one’s safety.

Memory care communities can offer specialized support and create a safe haven for individuals with moderately severe dementia. These communities provide 24-hour care, engaging activities, and a supportive social environment.

Stage 6: Severe Cognitive Decline

In Stage 6, dementia progresses to a point where your loved one requires extensive assistance with all aspects of daily life. They may have difficulty communicating their needs, recognizing loved ones, and remembering recent events. Their ability to walk, bathe, and dress independently may be severely compromised.

Some common examples of changes in Stage 6 include:

  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding language
  • Significant personality and behavioral changes
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Difficulty swallowing

During this stage, providing compassionate, person-centered care becomes paramount. A calm and reassuring environment focused on comfort measures and maintaining consistent routines can help ease your loved one’s anxiety and confusion.

Stage 7: Very Severe Cognitive Decline

In the final stage of dementia, your loved one’s physical and cognitive abilities are severely impaired. They may be bedridden, unable to communicate verbally and require assistance with all aspects of personal care, including eating and drinking.

Some common examples of changes in Stage 7 include:

  • Loss of ability to speak or understand language
  • Difficulty swallowing and eating
  • Increased susceptibility to infections, particularly pneumonia
  • Loss of muscle control and mobility
  • Gradual decline in physical functions

During this stage, the focus of care shifts to providing comfort, dignity, and pain management. Maintaining gentle physical contact, playing familiar music, and offering soothing words can provide comfort and reassurance to your loved one.

Hospice care can be a valuable resource during this stage. Hospice care professionals specialize in providing compassionate care to individuals nearing the end of life. They can help manage pain, address emotional and spiritual needs, and support families through the grieving process.

It’s Time for More Support

If you’re noticing signs of dementia in your loved one and feel they could benefit from a more supportive environment, we’re here to help. At The Delany® at The Green, our compassionate memory care community provides personalized care and engaging activities tailored to each resident’s unique needs and preferences. 

Call 973-784-8088 or contact us online to schedule a visit to The Delaney and experience our compassionate care firsthand.