How to Support a Loved One Living with Dementia
There are many different types of dementia and all of them are progressive. This means symptoms may be relatively mild at first, but they get worse with time, usually over several years. These include problems with memory, thinking, problem-solving or language, and often changes in emotions, perception or behaviour.
As dementia progresses, a person will need more help and, at some point, will need a lot of support with daily living. However, dementia is different for everyone, so it will vary how soon this happens and the type of support needed.
The different stages of dementia
Dementia often progresses in stages, but symptoms can vary from person and person and with different types of dementia. Below is a loose guide to the early, mid and late stages of dementia to help you understand the changes your loved one might experience and when to expect them.
During the early stages of dementia, symptoms are often mild and may be difficult to identify. The best-known sign of early dementia is problems with memory - this may include short term memory loss, forgetting recent events and frequently losing belongings.
Other early-stage dementia symptoms include a decline in thinking and planning, so individuals may get confused often, struggle to make plans or problem solve. Language and speech can also be affected, along with poor orientation and getting lost, visual-perceptual difficulties and uncharacteristic changes in mood or emotion.
Early-stage dementia lasts for an average of two years, but this is an incredibly rough timeframe that can vary between individuals.
During the middle stage of dementia, symptoms of the early stage worsen. This includes a decline in memory, language and orientation.
Individuals may experience feelings of depression, apathy and anxiety, in addition to delusions and hallucinations. This means your loved one might be paranoid, believing things that are not true, or they might think they can see and hear things that are not there.
Behavioural changes during this stage are common: agitation, restlessness, shouting, repetitive actions, difficulty sleeping, lost inhibitions and following people are normal signs of middle stage dementia.
The middle stage of dementia lasts on average for two to four years.
Memory problems during the latter stage of dementia are advanced – individuals may time shift, thinking that they are living in a previous period of their life, and fail to recognise loved ones, familiar places or themselves.
Language capabilities may be reduced to a few words, and multilingual individuals often only remember their first language. Delusions and hallucinations are common, and latter stage behavioural changes include aggression, restlessness and paranoia.
Late-stage dementia also brings physical difficulties, such as reduced movement, increased falls, and difficulty eating and swallowing.
The late stages of dementia tend to last for one to two years on average.
Identifying what stage of dementia your loved one is in
It can be difficult to identify what stage of dementia your loved one is living with or when they have progressed from one stage to the next.
It’s important to note that symptoms may appear in a different order for different individuals, or some stages can overlap. Some symptoms from early stages may reduce or disappear as the dementia progresses.
Key symptoms such as memory loss and language difficulties tend to worsen over time.
How to help a loved one with dementia
If you notice that your loved one may be living with symptoms of dementia and you have concerns, try to encourage them to speak to their GP or if you can, voice your concerns to their GP on their behalf so they can advise you on the next steps.
You may wish to support your loved one for as long as you can to help them retain independence for as long as possible. This can include helping with day-to-day tasks like shopping, gardening and walking the dog.
To help with memory problems, you can create memory aids like labels and signs to place around the home. It can also help to adapt the way to speak and listen to the individual if their communication capabilities are affected.
It is important for people living with dementia to eat a healthy, balanced diet and stay hydrated. You can take stress out of mealtimes and ensure that they eat well by trying smaller portions, reducing the size of food if they struggle with cutlery and swallowing, adapting food to their changing tastes and offering drinks in an easy-to-hold-cup.
Support with going to toilet, washing and dressing can also help your loved one retain their dignity and allow them to live independently for longer.
If you are caring for someone with dementia, it’s incredibly important to look after yourself and your well-being. When the demands of caring for someone with dementia become too much, you can reach out for professional support, whether domiciliary or residential.
Our friendly and experienced team are here to discuss your loved one’s needs - get in touch today to learn about care and support options to help them live life with dementia to the fullest.