The mental decline associated with dementia does not happen all at once; it goes through seven distinct clinical stages. Understanding these different levels can help people recognize signs and symptoms early on. Additionally, persons with dementia, along with their families, will know what to anticipate as the condition progresses. Families often report that communication becomes difficult as a loved one forgets them.
In stage four, your loved one with dementia may confuse you with another family member.
Persons with dementia may forget the names of their family members in stage five onward.
Although your loved one does not remember who you are, you may still be able to enjoy each other’s company.
Stages of dementia
Typically, in the first three stages of dementia, your loved one will remember family members. At the beginning of dementia development, a person typically has no memory issues or cognitive decline. This is known as stage one and is sometimes referred to as "pre-dementia." During stage two, occasional forgetfulness such as misplacing objects or forgetting names occurs. While this can be attributed to normal age-related changes in cognition, it could also signify early signs of degenerative dementia.
In stage three, clear cognitive issues start to appear. For instance, getting lost easily, performing poorly at work, having trouble remembering information read in books or passages, misplacing essential items, struggling with concentration, and mild-to-moderate anxiety as these problems interfere with daily life. Some individuals may have difficulty remembering the names of family members at this stage.
From stage one to three, those experiencing symptoms of dementia should have a consultation with a medical professional early on for an accurate diagnosis. This will help families plan for future care while their loved one with dementia recognizes them and can be involved in a care plan.
In the fourth stage, individuals may become socially isolated and display changes in their personalities and mood. Families report symptoms such as not being aware of current or recent events, forgetting personal history facts, struggling to manage finances or plan trips, confusion when it comes to recognizing people and faces, as well as difficulty navigating unfamiliar locations.
From stage five onward, persons with dementia may start forgetting their family members and close friends. Those in stage five of moderate dementia will require some assistance with their day-to-day lives. The main symptom of this level of dementia is the inability to remember important details such as close family members' names and home addresses. Furthermore, patients may forget basic information regarding themselves like a phone number or address. At this point, patients are still able to attend to essential tasks such as using the restroom or eating without help.
At stage six of dementia, it is common to forget the names of family members. During stage six, they may display delusional behavior, become obsessive or anxious, and demonstrate aggression or agitation. Caregivers should be aware of these signs to provide the best care possible.
In stage seven, hallucinations may be present in the most extreme case of dementia. Along with motor skills, the person's ability to communicate may also diminish over time. In the final stages, likely that they require help from family members or caregivers for basic activities like walking and eating.
Tips to remind your loved one with dementia about other family members
- When your loved one with dementia does not recognize you or other family members, then they may refuse to accept help for daily activities. To respond in such situations, it's best to remain calm and give brief explanations. You may need to repeat the information as your loved ones may also have language-related difficulties.
- Simply explain things and use visuals to jog the person's memory. Pictures of family members and other objects can help a person feel more secure. Some families use a memory book that has pictures and a short description of people to remind their loved ones with dementia of family and friends.
- Take them on trips down memory lane, talking about familiar places and people that they know. When mistakes are made, offer corrections as gentle suggestions rather than scolding. For example, say “I thought it was a TV remote” or “I think she is your friend Alice” instead of reprimanding them for getting something wrong.
- Do not take conversations personally. For instance, even after visiting every day or living together, a loved one with dementia may occasionally say that you never visit/see them. Although this can be frustrating, stay focused on enjoyable activities that you can do together.
- Depending on the stage of dementia, enjoyable activities for persons with dementia could change over time. Engage your loved one with dementia in activities that don’t make them feel frustrated. Some commonly reported enjoyable activities are watching movies together, baking cookies or other favorite dishes, making photo collages, and solving puzzles, etc.
- Remember that Alzheimer's disease causes forgetfulness and show understanding towards your loved one with support and kindness. Sharing your experience with others can be incredibly beneficial. Consider joining support groups (online or in-person) that provide message boards and resources to help caregivers exchange ideas and strategies for responding to challenges.
In conclusion, depending on the stage of dementia, loved ones with dementia may forget their family members. Although this situation can be difficult, brief explanations and visual cues can be helpful. Engage in enjoyable activities with your loved ones.