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Stages of Dementia for Elderly People

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms
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Dementia can be a frightening prospect both for the elderly person with it and those who love and care for them. Like any challenging situation, for some, it can feel more manageable if you are able to break it down into smaller pieces to digest.

With this in mind, we explore the stages of dementia.

While viewing dementia as a series of phases can be helpful, it’s also important to remember that a dementia sufferer may not always fit a specific stage or go through each one as the progression of the disease is unique to every individual.

Sadly, all types of dementia are progressive meaning that the symptoms will get worse over time as the structure and chemistry of the brain becomes more damaged. However, sometimes knowing what to expect next, whether as a carer or someone living with dementia can make you feel more in control.

Every case is different, and how rapidly the symptoms progress will vary from person to person. However, thinking of dementia as a series of stages can be a useful way to both understand what to expect and plan for the future whether for yourself or someone you care for.

Common types of dementia in Elderly People

While dementia is spoken about as a single illness, there are actually several different diseases that can cause dementia. In some cases, a person may have more than one type of dementia. This is known as mixed dementia, and it’s estimated that one in every ten people with dementia are suffering more than one type.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is one of the most common forms of dementia suffered by older adults. It is caused by changes in the brain, including abnormal build-ups of proteins, known as amyloid plaques and tau tangles.

Most sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease are older adults, however in fewer than 10% of cases, early onset Alzheimer’s can appear when a person is in their 40s or 50s.

Vascular Dementia

This is a form of dementia which is caused by conditions that harm blood vessels in the brain or interrupt the flow of blood to the brain, damaging brain cells.

Vascular dementia is often caused by a stroke, or a series of mini strokes which cause damage to the brain. In some cases, it may be caused by the narrowing of blood vessels deep inside the brain, which is known as subcortical vascular dementia or small vessel disease.

It is estimated to affect around 150,000 people in the UK.

Dementia with Lewy bodies

This is a form of dementia caused by abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein, called Lewy bodies.

It’s not yet clear what makes these deposits develop and how they damage the brain, however it’s thought that the proteins may interfere with signals sent between brain cells.

Frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) refers to a group of disorders caused by progressive nerve cell loss in the brain's frontal or temporal lobes. It’s a rare form of dementia which tends to occur in those who are younger than sixty.

Frontotemporal dementia is caused by clumps of abnormal protein forming inside brain cells. These are thought to damage the cells and stop them working properly.

The proteins mainly build up in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain at the front and sides. These are important for controlling language, behaviour, and the ability to plan and organise.

While the symptoms of different types of dementia may vary, all are progressive diseases, which means that these symptoms do get worse over time. However, by understanding the stage of dementia you can help to plan your care and support for either yourself or your loved ones.

Early stages of dementia

Dementia affects everyone differently and spotting the early signs can be difficult. Many symptoms that involve memory loss can easily be confused with general signs of forgetfulness that we all experience as we age.

While, completely understandably, many people want to bury their head in the sand, when it comes to dementia, early diagnosis of dementia allows you to make the best plans for the future and be in control of how you or your loved one want to be cared for later on. So, if you feel that you or someone close to you may have symptoms do seek professional advice.

Most individuals with early-stage dementia can still live independently but may require a little more support than they had previously, for example, with setting routines or keeping reminders. In an era of technology, there are plenty of ways that someone with early-stage dementia can be helped – from using assistants such as “Alexa” for reminders, to considering a personal alarm to feel reassured that someone is on hand should you become confused.

One of the most common early symptoms are memory problems and forgetfulness. This could mean forgetting where items are left to not recalling recent conversations. Making plans or complex decisions may become more difficult as cognitive function is impaired.

While huge behavioural changes due to the dementia itself are not usual at this stage (except sometimes in the case of frontal lobe damage), someone in the early stages of dementia may feel depressed, anxious or frustrated due to the other symptoms from which they are suffering.

Mid stage dementia

Middle stage dementia is the time where the symptoms of early stage dementia will get worse and potentially start to make more of an impact on the patient’s everyday life. The middle stage of dementia is usually the longest and can last for many years.

Changes to behaviour tend to start in mid-stage dementia and some of the most common are forgetting significant things like where they live or what day it is. You could notice that the person with dementia is struggling with everyday tasks such as getting dressed or remembering to eat properly. At this stage, it may be helpful for your loved one to carry a dementia tracker with GPS tracking with them.

If you are caring for someone with middle stage dementia, making sure that you have the right support becomes more important as you are likely to find that the patient’s ability to be independent dwindles. You may find our guide on how to help someone with dementia useful.

Late stage dementia

Sometimes known as severe or advanced dementia, the later stages of dementia can be particularly distressing for family members and friends, so as best you can try and look after your own mental health if you are helping to care for an elderly person with late stage dementia.

Generally speaking, someone in the latest stages of dementia will need round the clock care, and most often this takes place in a care setting, although, with professional support, some patients are cared for at home.

At this late stage, a person living with dementia/Alzheimer’s is likely to have severe impairment in processing new information, which leads to them struggling with their memory of recent events.

This can mean that they fail to recognise people or places that would usually be familiar. Often someone in the later stages of dementia will believe that they are in an earlier period of their life.

Communication with someone suffering with late stage dementia can be difficult as some people will lose the ability to speak. Nonverbal communication can become vital at this stage.

The loss of physical abilities during late stage dementia is usually the reason that patients will need total care.

At this stage you may find that the person may be unsteady on their feet and be at increased risk of falls, need help with eating and potentially have difficulty swallowing and be incontinent.

While it can be upsetting to think about the stages of dementia, having important conversations and considering plans for the future does mean that the person can live well at all stages, and choose what support they want when they are no longer able to make independent choices.

Call SureSafe's team of experts on 0800 112 3201 to learn more about how you can help keep loved ones suffering from dementia safe.

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