Understanding the different stages of dementia

As many of you know, dementia is a chronic syndrome that affects the brain, causing the progressive decline of a person’s cognition and abilities.


Dementia has a huge impact on daily life but because various parts of the brain are affected at separate times, people progress at a different rate to each other, meaning that no two people will have the exact same journey. 


The below serves as a guide of what to expect with the condition over several timeframes and what the common symptoms are.  The key thing to bear in mind is knowing that help is out there.  From your GP to organisations like Alzheimer’s Queensland, there’s all sorts of services and support you can access to help make life a little easier. 


Early-stage dementia

Symptoms in early stage dementia generally last for between two and four years, and can present quite differently in each person.  At some point during the early stage, people tend to seek out medical intervention and diagnosis, as well as organisations like Alzheimer’s Queensland which can offer huge emotional support.  


Whilst it’s important that people maintain their independence in this time of change, they usually also consider both retirement and lifestyle changes to help manage their condition.


Common symptoms

  • Short term memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Loss of spontaneity and initiative
  • Mood or personality changes
  • Poor judgement
  • Difficulty handling finances
  • Inability in performing daily tasks to usual standards
  • Apathy and withdrawal


Mid-stage dementia

The middle stage of dementia can last anywhere from two to 10 years.  The changes people face during this period are challenging and can make them feel as if the world’s a confusing and frightening place.  The role of carers in people’s lives becomes critical at this stage, as does the need for support services. 


Common symptoms

  • Repetitive statements and movements
  • Restlessness, especially in late afternoon
  • Communication difficulties, particularly with word finding
  • Problems reading and writing
  • Deterioration in personal hygiene
  • Development of new behaviours such as delusions, paranoia, suspiciousness, wandering or hoarding
  • Difficulty recognising friends and newer family members


Late-stage dementia

This unfortunate, and often distressing stage of dementia can last for between one and three years.  A person with the condition may be unable to speak or walk and are likely to need full-time nursing care.


Although they may not engage with others easily, human contact, attention and touch are vital to a person with dementia – for both their wellbeing and quality of life.


Common symptoms

  • Inability to recognise family members
  • Difficulty recognising self
  • Little capacity for self-care
  • Little or no verbal communication
  • May put everything in mouth, or touch and fiddle with things
  • Incontinence


End of life

People can live for up to 20 years from when their dementia symptoms first begin but as their mental health deteriorates, so does their overall health and wellbeing.  


Alzheimer’s specifically is known to cause a lowered immune system and often people experience major health issues as a result, including seizures, gastrointestinal bleeding, heart attacks or strokes.  Common symptoms at the end of life stage are pneumonia, pain and/or fever – and death is due to multi-organ failure due to damage to the brain, preventing it from regulating bodily functions.


Help and support

Dementia is an insidious disease which can feel alienating and tough to tackle but remember you’re not alone.  Currently almost 343,000 people in Australia live with the condition with thousands more touched by the disease as they care for their loved ones.


Alzheimer’s Queensland can help you find specialised care and we offer free community awareness sessions too.  If you’d like support or further information about dementia, please call our 24-hour Advice Line on 1800 639 331.




Words: Ash Anand