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A Caregiver’s Guide to Navigating Dementia Behaviors

When it comes to caring for a loved one with memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s important to meet them where they’re at.

Unfortunately, progressive changes in their brain will cause your loved one to become forgetful and change their behavior.

Navigating these different phases in your loved one’s dementia journey will be difficult, which is why you should familiarize yourself with the disease. 

When you understand dementia behaviors, and know what to expect along with every stage, you continue to provide excellent support for your loved one.

Let’s talk about the early signs of Dementia, the many stages, and how assisted living might be the right solution for you and your senior. 

What are the Seven Stages of Dementia?

The effects and behaviors caused by dementia will vary from person to person. 

Sometimes these changes will overlap between phases and the symptoms may affect each person differently, at varying levels of intensity.

There are currently seven recognized stages for Alzheimer’s and dementia, which break down into early stages, mid-stages, and late stages.

Early Stages:

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia may be imperceptible or very slight. 

Increased forgetfulness is the earliest symptom. People in the early stages can still live a relatively independent life and drive themselves but may depend on caregivers for additional support. 

The early stages can last anywhere from 2-4 years.

Stage One: Normal Behavior, Unnoticeable Changes

Unnoticeable brain changes are underway that may have begun years before the first symptoms are even noticeable. In this stage, symptoms are undetectable and can only be discovered through a PET scan.

Stage Two: Very Mild Decline

This stage is when symptoms first become noticeable. Their behavior may be disregarded as “normal aging,” including mixing up words or becoming slightly forgetful. People in this stage are still independent.

Stage Three: Mild Decline

Changes in your loved one become even more noticeable, as their memory loss progresses into forgetting where they placed things, asking the same questions over and over, and having difficulty organizing. People in this mild stage will rely on caregivers for additional support to complete daily activities and set them reminders.

Moderate Stages:

The moderate stage is the longest-lasting phase and can last anywhere from 2-10 years. Those in this phase will become more forgetful, agitated, and require more help completing their daily activities. People living in the moderate stage can no longer drive themselves safely.

Stage Four: Moderate Decline

Cognitive decline continues as memory loss becomes more pronounced. They may forget what month it is, have difficulty keeping track of finances, become incontinent, wander and become lost, and struggle to do routine tasks.

Stage Five: Moderately Severe Decline

Increased memory loss continues as your loved one might forget their address, repeat themselves often, and develop further changes in their behavior and personality.

Advanced or Severe Stages:

The last stages are Alzheimer’s and dementia have the shortest duration, somewhere between 1-3 years. 

It’s common for people in this stage to seek professional help from assisted living and memory care communities that can provide around-the-clock support. Hospice care traditionally follows these last stages.

Stage Six: Severe Decline

People in the severe stages will forget names, although they still are able to recognize faces. However, it’s common for loved ones to mistake their loved ones for other people. Incontinence is extremely common, and swallowing and eating will become more difficult.

Stage Seven: Very Severe Decline

People in the last stage of Alzheimer’s and dementia depend on their caregiver for most of their assistance, including bathing, dressing, and eating. Once people have entered the last stage of dementia, it’s common to seek hospice care. 

What are the Early Dementia Behaviors to Watch Out For?

In the earliest stage, there are no symptoms. However, you should keep a close eye on your loved one to see if they exhibit these early dementia behaviors:

  • Reduced concentration
  • Trouble remembering people’s names
  • Constantly having a word be “on the tip of the tongue”
  • Becoming more forgetful and misplacing objects
  • Increased confusion
  • Memory problems

It’s easy for you and your family to overlook these early symptoms as signs of “normal aging,” which is why you should keep track to make sure these symptoms aren’t getting worse.

Ways to Help Your Parent in the Early Stages of Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Luckily, people in the early stages can still function completely independently and drive themselves. Your loved one can benefit from you keeping them on track, helping to set reminders, and making sure they pay their bills on time.

During these stages, you can offer emotional support and companionship, and educate yourself on the disease to prepare for their future.

Behaviors to Expect in Mid-Stage

The middle stage is the longest-lasting, and often when caregivers need to provide additional levels of care.

Because the damage to their brain has become more pronounced, they may experience these dementia behaviors:

  • Increased frustration and agitation
  • Depression
  • Changes in sleep cycles
  • Verbal and physical outbursts
  • Refusing to bathe
  • Wanting to drive, when they are no longer able
  • Difficulties eating, bathing, and dressing themselves

To help your loved one cope, try out these caregiving tips:

  • Use a calm voice and speak slowly, never raise your voice or become angry
  • Use written reminders placed around your loved one’s home
  • Learn the Positive Approach to Care to deal with difficult situations in a tactful and helpful way
  • Create a familiar routine for your loved one
  • Allow them to do as much as they can independently
  • Reduce caffeine and sugar intake
  • Remove tripping hazards from the home
  • Discourage napping and keep them physically active to maintain a regular sleep cycle
  • Reduce hot-water heater temperature so they can’t burn themselves bathing

Behaviors to Expect in Late-Stage 

Previous symptoms in the earlier stages will become more pronounced, and your loved one will rely on their caretaker to help them complete all of their daily activities.

Late-stage symptoms may include:

  • Increased distress and agitation
  • Aggression
  • Sundown, or wandering off
  • Hallucinations 
  • Restlessness

To help your loved one in the late stages, consider the following:

  • Get their hearing and vision checked, it’s possible they may not be able to hear or see you.
  • Make sure they’re in a safe, quiet, and secure environment that doesn’t overstimulate them
  • Engage them in social activities, such as listening to music, or massaging their hands
  • React calmly when they have outbursts, and validate their emotions
  • Transition them from home into a dedicated memory care community

Learn More about The Kensington Falls Church, Your Providers in Care

At The Kensington Falls Church, we have a passion for excellence in providing care to seniors with advanced memory loss, whether it’s from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

We are an enhanced assisted living and memory care community in Falls Church, Virginia.

For those suffering from memory loss, we have two distinct memory care neighborhoods — Haven and Connections, that serve to help those in the early to advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Please reach out to The Kensington Falls Church for questions and concerns about your loved one dealing with memory loss and find a care option that fits your loved one’s needs.We extend our Kensington Promise to you — to love and take care of your family as we would our own.

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