AGEWISE: Understanding the progression of dementia


You may have heard the expression, as written by Shakespeare in Hamlet, “They say an old man is twice the child.”  For just about everyone moving into the upper age brackets, we can understand this sentiment – older people often lose their teeth, their ability to walk, etc.  But when dealing with dementia, a person is even more apt to “become a child” as the disease progresses.

We had a very informative speaker at the Library on April 7, Judy Cleary of Branchlands in Charlottesville.  Judy has worked with residents with memory impairment for many years and she shared some of her knowledge and experience with the audience.

As part of her presentation, Judy reviewed what she called the “age of acquisition” in order to better understand the stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

In the early stages of dementia, those affected are generally able to function relatively independently, as can a 12-year old, but may have poor judgment and need help with certain tasks. As the person advances in their memory impairment, they “move backward” through the stages they gained as they went from infancy, through childhood, to adulthood.  So, for example, in the middle stages of dementia, the person may lose the ability to select proper clothing (a skill they gained at about age 5).  In the later stages, the ability to shower and toilet independently becomes lost (acquired at age 2-4).  And in the last stage of dementia, the capacity to speak is lost (as it was attained at 1-2 years) and to do much beyond smile and hold up one’s head (learned at 1-4 months); at this stage, the person with dementia is completely dependent upon others to sustain life, as are infants.

Understanding this disease progression helps us as caregivers to come to terms with which skills are retained and which are no longer available.

“The seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of man is a circle from childhood to childhood.” Black Elk, 1863-1950.

 For more information on the stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, go to:

We are very pleased to invite you to our 3rd annual caregivers’ conference, to be held on Tuesday, June 19, 2018, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Germanna Community College’s Culpeper Campus.  Internationally known dementia care expert, Teepa Snow, will conduct an all-day workshop, “HELPING THROUGHOUT THE JOURNEY OF DEMENTIA”.  She will use a variety of teaching methods to train the audience, both professional and family caregivers, in understanding behaviors, communication strategies, and changing the environment for better outcomes.  The workshop is $30, which includes breakfast and lunch, as well as continuing education credits for those wanting them.  Go to for more information and registration.  Scholarships for unpaid family caregivers are available; call Aging Together for scholarship information at 540-829-6405.