Dementia Progression

How quickly dementia progresses depends on what is causing it and the area of the brain that is affected. Some types of dementia progress slowly over several years. Other types may progress more rapidly. If vascular dementia is caused by a series of small strokes, the loss of mental skills may be gradual. If it is caused by a single stroke in a large blood vessel, loss of function may occur suddenly.

The course of dementia varies greatly from one person to another. Early diagnosis and treatment with medicines used for Alzheimer’s (cholinesterase inhibitors such as donepezil [Aricept]) may help preserve mental functioning for a while in people with vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, or Parkinson’s disease.  Even without these medicines, some people remain stable for months or years, while others decline rapidly.

Many people with dementia are not aware of their mental decline. They may deny their condition and blame others for the problems they experience. Those who are aware may mourn their loss of abilities and become hopeless and depressed. Depending on the type of dementia, the person’s behavior may eventually become out of control. The person may become angry, agitated, and combative or clingy and childlike. He or she may wander and become lost. These problems can make it difficult for family members or others to continue providing care at home.

Even with the best care, people with dementia tend to have a shorter life span than the average person their age. Death usually results from lung or kidney infections caused by being bedridden.

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