Dementia usually develops gradually. Experts divide its progression into three stages with the following hallmarks:
- Memory loss: People can't remember recent events and newly acquired information, and ask the same questions over and over.
- Difficulty with problem-solving, complex tasks and sound judgments: Planning a family event or balancing a chequebook can be overwhelming. Lapses in judgment, as when making financial decisions, can occur.
- Changes in personality: People become subdued, especially in social situations, or show uncharacteristic irritability. Attention span and motivation levels decrease.
- Difficulty in organizing and expressing thoughts: Finding the right words becomes a challenge.
- Lost: People lose their way - and their belongings.
- Increasingly poor judgment and deeper confusion. People lose track of their location, the time, even what season it is. They often can't recognize their own belongings and may take things that aren't theirs. They also may confuse relatives with friends, or mistake strangers for family. They may wander, and really can't be on their own.
- Greater memory loss: What's forgotten grows to include their address or telephone number, or where they attended school. They repeat favourite stories or make them up to fill gaps in memory.
- Help needed: Choosing proper clothing, bathing, grooming and using the bathroom all may require assistance. Some people occasionally lose control of bowel or bladder.
- Personality changes: Unfounded suspicions aren't unusual, nor are imagined sights and sounds. People often grow agitated, especially late in the day, leading to verbal outbursts or even physical attacks.
- Loss of coherence: The ability to converse properly can disappear.
- Greater assistance: All personal care - eating, dressing, using the bathroom - requires help.
- Physical decline: People who can't walk unassisted may lose the ability to sit or even hold up their heads. Muscles may become rigid and reflexes abnormal. Eventually, they can't swallow or control bodily functions.
- The rate of decline varies (usually slower for those diagnosed younger), but, on average, people live four to six years after diagnosis. Pneumonia is a common cause of death, along with complications from infections and falls.
Source: Mayo Clinic