Dementia Stages: How Different Types of Dementia Progress

Medically Reviewed By Heidi Moawad, M.D.

Dementia stages can be similar across different types of the disease. However, some types have distinctive symptoms as the disease advances. The rate of progression among different dementia types can also differ. Dementia is a term used to describe the symptoms of several brain conditions. These conditions cause a progressive decline in memory, thinking, and behavior. The types of symptoms and rate at which they advance will vary depending on the form of dementia.

This article explains the stages of dementia, from mild to severe. It also outlines how each type of dementia progresses and the symptoms people may experience over the course of their disease.

What are the stages of dementia?

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The stages of dementia vary widely depending on the cause and progression rate of each type. The World Health Organization (WHO) Trusted Source World Health Organization Highly respected international organization Go to source classifies overall dementia stages as follows.

Stages of dementia

  • Early stage dementia: The first signs of dementia include a gradual decline in memory and thinking abilities. This interferes with daily life but doesn’t affect a person’s ability to function independently.
  • Middle stage dementia: This moderate level of dementia is marked by a more significant decline in memory and thinking abilities. At this point, a person may require support to perform daily tasks.
  • Late stage dementia: This level indicates a severe decline in memory and thinking abilities that prevents someone from living independently. In this stage, a person may no longer recognize loved ones or become physically inactive.

Learn more about dementia types, risk factors, and treatments.

Signs of early stage dementia 

Early stage dementia can be difficult to recognize because it can mimic symptoms of typical aging.

Specific symptoms will vary depending on the type of dementia. Generally, early signs of dementia can include:

  • memory loss
  • difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • losing track of time
  • getting lost or not recognizing familiar locations
  • changes in behavior or personality
  • trouble understanding simple directions or instructions from others
  • problems remembering details

A person with dementia may become unable to perform tasks they used to manage independently. This can include:

  • forgetting to take medication
  • missing payments on bills
  • forgetting scheduled appointments

Signs of middle stage dementia

As dementia progresses from the mild to the moderate stage, existing symptoms may worsen. A person may require additional assistance, even if they still live independently.

Timelines for each case of dementia are different. However, the middle stage typically lasts the longest, anywhere from 2–4 years.

During the middle stage of dementia, a person may have symptoms including:

  • difficulty recognizing people or remembering names
  • more severe loss of direction or awareness of place
  • inability to keep track of time and schedules
  • delusions or hallucinations
  • feelings of paranoia, including about loved ones
  • increased agitation, including shouting or yelling
  • repetitive habits, such as pulling on a piece of clothing
  • decreased inhibition, such as inappropriate social behavior

Signs of late stage dementia

As with other stages, the severity and symptoms of late stage dementia can vary depending on the type. By this stage, symptoms may include:

  • loss of communication skills, such as:
    • speech limited to single words
    • phrases that do not make sense
  • problems eating, which can be due to:
  • behavioral changes that may include aggression
  • loss of awareness of one’s surroundings and time
  • needing help with most everyday activities
  • bowel and bladder incontinence
  • difficulty walking and higher risk of falls
  • altered sleeping patterns

Alzheimer’s disease progression

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source type of dementia. It is a progressive disease that causes a decline in mental abilities.

The progression from one stage of Alzheimer’s to another may be slow or rapid. Also, the severity of symptoms can vary depending on the stage of the disease.

The Alzheimer’s Association outlines stages of Alzheimer’s disease as follows.

Stages of Alzheimer’s disease

Early stage (mild)

Memory and thinking skills are mildly impaired but don’t interfere with daily life activities. The person can still live independently.

Middle stage (moderate)

Symptoms become more severe and interfere with memory, thinking, and reasoning abilities. Someone may have trouble completing everyday tasks such as paying bills or doing simple household chores.

Late stage (severe)

Symptoms worsen to the point that a person becomes fully dependent on others for tasks. This can include activities such as eating or getting dressed.

Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease stages and diagnosis.

Lewy body dementia progression

Lewy body dementia is caused by abnormal clumps of protein in the brain called Lewy bodies. These deposits can cause nerve cell damage that results in cognitive decline. This form of dementia tends to progress quickly.

Lewy body dementia typically starts Trusted Source National Institute on Aging Governmental authority Go to source with mild problems, such as:

  • difficulty sleeping or periods of drowsiness
  • trouble concentrating
  • changes in behavior and personality

As the disease progresses, symptoms may include:

During the late stage of Lewy body dementia, people may experience more severe symptoms, such as:

  • tremors
  • muscle stiffness
  • loss of mobility

Learn about Lewy body dementia causes, risk factors, and treatments.

Vascular dementia progression

Vascular dementia is a form of dementia that results from stroke or other types of brain damage. It deprives the brain of oxygen-rich blood.

The progression of vascular dementia can vary widely from person to person. Some people may maintain their independence for years after their initial stroke or brain injury. Others may need assistance much earlier.

As vascular dementia progresses, a person may experience symptoms such as:

  • memory loss
  • confusion
  • difficulty with thinking and reasoning
  • personality changes
  • trouble completing daily tasks

Some people with vascular dementia may also experience Trusted Source National Institute on Aging Governmental authority Go to source brief periods of symptom improvement. This can occur even while the disease continues to progress.

Learn about vascular dementia symptoms, causes, and treatments.

Frontotemporal dementia progression

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) affects the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes, causing changes in personality, behavior, and movement.

Symptoms often develop gradually. The early stage of FTD does not Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source typically include memory loss.

Depending on the type of FTD, the progression of symptoms can include Trusted Source National Institute on Aging Governmental authority Go to source :

  • impulsive behavior
  • loss of interest in loved ones or favorite activities
  • problems organizing tasks or planning ahead
  • changes in ability to communicate or understand language
  • changes in mobility or muscle control

Learn about FTD risk factors, diagnosis, and treatments.

Parkinson’s disease dementia progression

Parkinson’s disease dementia occurs when someone develops dementia at least 1 year after receiving a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. This type of dementia often progresses slowly and is characterized by problems with thinking and memory.

In the early stages, a person may have trouble with their attention span and problem-solving abilities. They may also have difficulty navigating physical spaces.

As the disease progresses, symptoms may include problems with language comprehension or expression.

In late stage Parkinson’s disease dementia, a person may have difficulty walking, swallowing, and speaking clearly. They may develop breathing difficulties due to muscle weakness associated with Parkinson’s disease.

Learn more about Parkinson’s disease dementia symptoms, risk factors, and treatments.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some questions people often ask about stages of dementia. These answers were reviewed by Heidi Moawad, M.D.

What are signs that dementia is getting worse?

Each type of dementia progresses differently. General signs of advancing dementia include:

  • more severe loss of memory
  • more noticeable changes in personality
  • increased dependence on others for daily tasks and activities

Someone with progressing dementia may also become less aware of time and place. This can include wandering or becoming lost, even in familiar places.

What causes death in people with dementia?

Dementia is not a direct cause of death in people with the disease. Rather, having dementia increases the risk of complications, such as malnutrition or infection, which can become fatal.

Summary

Dementia is a group of symptoms of several brain conditions. These conditions cause a progressive decline in memory, thinking, and behavior. Each type of dementia has its own stages and symptoms of progression.

As the disease progresses, people with dementia usually lose their ability to think clearly, communicate, and make decisions for themselves. They may also have trouble caring for themselves and performing basic tasks, such as eating or bathing.

The progression of each type of dementia varies from person to person. Your loved one’s care team can provide guidance on stages of dementia. They can also offer support for managing symptoms over the course of the disease.

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Medical Reviewer: Heidi Moawad, M.D.
Last Review Date: 2023 Jan 17
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