Helping primary care to support people with dementia

The later stages of dementia

March 7 2012

During the later stages of dementia most people will become increasingly frail due to the progression of the illness. They will also gradually become dependent on others for all of their care.

It is important for practitioners to understand and explain to patients and carers the range of symptoms that are likely to occur in the later stages of most dementias.

This can help people to prepare and choose how they will be cared for in the future. It is important to recognise that the later stages of dementia can be a distressing time for carers and relatives.

Download the Alzheimer’s Society factsheet on the later stages of dementia

Symptoms in the later stages

  • Memory loss is likely to be very severe in the later stages of dementia. People may be unable to recognise those close to them, everyday objects or places. People may still be able to appreciate or respond to sound, scent and touch. People may also experience sudden flashes of recognition.
  • Communication difficulties as the person with dementia may not understand what is being said to them and what is going on around them. People can also gradually lose their ability to speak.
  • Unusual behaviour as some people with dementia may behave in ways that are unusual to them due to feelings and emotions which arise as a result of the dementia. These behaviours can sometimes challenge others to understand what the person is communicating.
  • Loss of mobility as many people with dementia lose their ability to walk and to perform everyday tasks. Early signs of mobility loss include shuffling, clumsiness and be more likely to bump into things, drop objects or fall.
  • Weight loss most people with dementia lose weight in the later stages of the illness. This can affect the immune system, making it harder for the person to fight infections. It can also increase the risk of falling and make it harder for the person to remain independent.
  • Incontinence Many people lose control of their bladder in the later stages of dementia. Some people also lose control of their bowels.

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