Vascular dementia impacts around 150,000 people in the UK. Defined as cognitive decline due to brain damage from impaired blood flow, it is a progressive condition, meaning the signs and symptoms will likely worsen over time. While no two people experience the exact same range of symptoms at the same time, there are seven recognised stages that most individuals pass through.
Understanding these and recognising the symptoms can help when seeking a diagnosis or identifying the right type of support for your loved one.
The seven stages of vascular dementia
1. Normal cognitive behaviour (pre-dementia)
During this first stage, damage to the brain is likely to have occurred. However, the individual’s cognitive behaviour remains unchanged and they continue with daily tasks as they always have.
2. Very mild cognitive decline (pre-dementia)
In stage two, the physical changes in an individual’s brain become apparent through external symptoms. These are normally mild confusion or issues with problem-solving skills. Many individuals in this stage attribute their symptoms to ageing. The brain’s hippocampus, which deals with memory, naturally deteriorates with age. For this reason, few people seek a diagnosis at this early stage.
3. Mild cognitive decline (pre-dementia)
Stage three is where the signs and symptoms of vascular dementia present themselves strongly enough for others to notice. The changes and progression witnessed during this time can be gradual, meaning it is often the longest stage out of the seven. Signs of confusion, slowed thinking and memory loss all become more apparent and begin to impact the individual’s ability to function on a daily basis.
It is normally during stage three that family and friends begin to seek support for their loved one. This could be in the form of homecare or the organisation of residential care, with the input of the individual to ensure a smooth transition.
4. Moderate cognitive decline
When an individual enters stage four, their symptoms become prominent and new symptoms begin to arise. It is during this stage that individuals are most likely to receive a diagnosis and require additional support. Safety becomes a concern, especially when it comes to tasks including cooking or taking medication. Family and friends may also notice changes in mood and social withdrawal, or even the denial of symptoms altogether.
5. Moderately severe cognitive decline
Stage five is often referred to as ‘mid-stage’ dementia. It is during this time that the individual will be unlikely to continue with normal day-to-day activities, including bathing or dressing, and typically need assistance from a professional carer. Your loved one will require consistent support and supervision. Memory loss becomes more pronounced, as does the risk of wandering. Some individuals also experience sundown syndrome, where restlessness, agitation and confusion worsen as the daylight begins to fade.
6. Severe cognitive decline
At this stage, your loved one will likely require a higher level of support and care to support them in the daytime and nighttime tasks. These include eating, bathing and using the toilet. They may have difficulty with sleep, experience urinary incontinence or have more severe personality changes. There is also an increased risk of infections during this stage. You may need to consider residential care support or a live-in professional carer to ensure your loved one’s needs are addressed at all times.
7. Very severe cognitive decline
The final stage of vascular dementia is the most severe. During this time, your loved one may have severe memory loss and struggle to remember loved ones. They will require around-the-clock support for essential daily tasks. Some individuals lose the ability to swallow and struggle with language skills or may be unable to walk. The focus during this stage shifts to preserving the quality of life of your loved one, ensuring their comfort and management of pain.
As vascular dementia progresses differently for everyone, it’s impossible to tell how long it will take a loved one to move through all seven stages. Having the right support can help to streamline their care, prolonging their independence and providing reassurance to family and friends.
Here at Avante Care & Support, we provide care and support for over 1000 individuals through registered dementia care homes, home care and well-being support services. To learn more, contact us today.