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How quickly does dementia progress?

Fonthill House, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Dementia refers to a group of progressive diseases that affect the brain considerably. This means early signs of dementia can be mild and are often undiagnosed, but over time the symptoms worsen. Dementia progresses differently for each individual, but the disease is primarily categorised into three main stages: early dementia, moderate dementia and advanced dementia. As it progresses, people with dementia need additional support with day-to-day activities, and may require specialist dementia care.

What are the signs and symptoms of dementia?

There are many symptoms of dementia that vary from one person to another. The most common symptom is memory loss, which is typically mild to start and develops over time. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Loss of cognitive ability 
  • Struggling to communicate 
  • Difficulty with visual abilities
  • Personality changes

What are the different stages of dementia?

As mentioned, there are three main stages of dementia that help to understand how quickly the condition progresses. It is important to keep in mind that these phases may affect people differently, and there is no definite time frame for dementia progression.

Early dementia

Early dementia, or mild dementia, occurs when the initial signs and symptoms appear. Early dementia is a stage that is often missed and can remain undiagnosed as the symptoms are mild and are sometimes associated with other lifestyle factors, such as stress or being overworked. The main symptoms at this stage include forgetting recent information, becoming withdrawn, misplacing things or struggling with problem-solving. Usually, the individual can still function independently and complete daily activities when living with early dementia.

Moderate dementia

Those diagnosed  with moderate dementia will likely need support in their daily lives. During this stage, the symptoms become a lot more apparent, and it becomes harder to continue with regular activities and self-care. Individuals may experience increasing confusion, agitation, inability to sleep and worsening memory loss that extends beyond recent events.

Advanced dementia

The final stage is advanced dementia, and at this point, dementia would have progressed significantly, which is very noticeable within the individual’s ability to live independently. Those with advanced dementia experience further mental decline and worsened physical capabilities. This includes being unable to walk, communicate, and eventually, the loss of simple human functions such as swallowing. When dementia progresses to this stage, individuals will likely need full-time care.

Why is dementia progressive?

Dementia is a complex condition caused by a collection of  diseases in the brain, including Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Every type of dementia affects different areas of the brain, so the type of symptoms and their severity can vary considerably.

Dementia begins with a small part of the brain being damaged by disease, causing the mild symptoms seen in the early stage. Over time, these types of diseases spread, causing more areas of the brain to become affected, which causes symptoms to worsen. This usually happens during the moderate dementia phase. As spreading continues, the parts of the brain affected earliest become even more damaged, eventually leaving the brain unable to function. This is when the individual is diagnosed with advanced dementia and loses control over basic human capabilities.

How quickly does dementia progress?

Dementia can affect individuals very differently, and several factors impact the rate at which it progresses. Some of the most influential factors include:

  • Type of dementia: Alzheimer’s disease is known for progressing quite slowly, and after diagnosis, many people live for another 4-8 years. Other diseases, such as dementia with a lewy body or frontotemporal dementia may progress at a faster rate. 
  • Health conditions: for individuals with existing health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure, dementia tends to progress faster. 
  • Age: in general, dementia progresses more slowly in people older than 65 years. Those diagnosed in their young years may experience a more rapid progression and notice symptoms earlier. 


People living with dementia will progress through these stages at different speeds and may experience various symptoms. Understanding the signs and symptoms will help to provide loved ones suffering from dementia with the support and care they need. At Fonthill Care, we offer specialist 1-2-1 care for those living with dementia. Get in touch with us to find out more about our care services.

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