How can you slow the symptoms of dementia?

What is dementia?

Dementia is not a specific disease, but rather a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. It is caused by damage to brain cells which affects the ability to communicate between brain cells. Though dementia is more common in the elderly, it is not a normal part of aging. There are many types of dementia, with the most common being Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. The progression and symptoms can vary a great deal from one person to another. While dementia is currently incurable, and dementia symptoms worsen over time, there are ways to slow this decline in functioning.

What are the most common causes of dementia?

The most common causes of dementia are:

– Alzheimer’s disease – This is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all dementia cases. It is characterized by buildup of abnormal proteins (beta-amyloid and tau) in the brain that form plaques and tangles. This disrupts communication between nerve cells and causes them to die. The parts of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s are typically the hippocampus and cerebral cortex, which are vital for memory and other cognitive functions.

– Vascular dementia – This type accounts for about 10% of dementia cases. It is caused by impaired blood flow to the brain, often due to stroke or small vessel disease. The reduced blood flow damages and eventually kills brain cells. Parts of the brain affected include the frontal lobe, which controls planning and judgement.

– Lewy body dementia – Abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein form in nerve cells in the brain regions involved in thinking, memory and movement. This accounts for 10-15% of dementia cases.

– Frontotemporal dementia – 5-10% of cases involve progressive cell loss in the brain’s frontal lobes or temporal lobes. It is characterized by changes in personality and behavior and difficulty with language.

– Mixed dementia – Many people have brain changes associated with more than one type of dementia. Recent studies show that up to 45% of people have evidence of both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

What are the stages of dementia?

There are generally considered to be 7 stages of dementia progression:

Stage 1: No impairment, completely normal function.

Stage 2: Very mild decline in memory and thinking ability. May be noticeable to family members or doctors, but not disabling.

Stage 3: Mild decline that is more apparent to co-workers, family and friends. Difficulties remembering recent events, names and locations of familiar places may occur. Able to function without much assistance.

Stage 4: Moderate decline. Gaps in memory and thinking are noticeable. Forgetting details about personal history or inability to manage finances may happen. Able to perform simple tasks independently.

Stage 5: Moderately severe decline. Major gaps in memory present. Assistance needed with day-to-day activities. Wandering or becoming lost in familiar places may occur.

Stage 6: Severe decline. Continuous oversight is needed. Cannot remember major details such as phone numbers or where they live. Require full-time assistance with daily personal care. Experience behavioral changes including suspiciousness, hallucinations, delusions or compulsive behaviors.

Stage 7: Very severe decline. Completely dependent on caregivers for all aspects of care. Lose ability for speech, walking, sitting upright. No longer recognize loved ones.

Progression through the stages varies across individuals but in general is gradual, occurring over years. On average, patients with Alzheimer’s disease live 4-8 years after diagnosis, but some live as long as 20 years.

What are the main symptoms of dementia?

The symptoms of dementia involve progressive impairments in:

– Memory – This includes difficulty recalling recent events and conversations. Forgetting names, dates, and other information one would previously have recalled easily. Relying on aids like sticky notes, planners, or family members to remind them of things. Repeating questions/conversations as they are forgotten.

– Communication – Difficulty finding the right words for conversations. Using unusual words interchangeably. Rambling or hesitation when speaking. Trouble following conversations or long explanations. Uncharacteristic changes to mood or personality.

– Focus and Attention – Wandering attention that is easily distracted. Difficulty concentrating on tasks. Taking longer to do routine chores. Forgetting steps in a sequence like following recipes.

– Reasoning – Making questionable or poor decisions. Decreased judgement. Problems recognizing safety risks. Challenges processing new information or learning new skills. More impulsive decision making.

– Visual Perception – Difficulty reading, judging distances, determining color or contrast. Problems orienting clothing onto one’s body. Challenges driving due to issues merging lanes, making turns, parking, etc.

– Activities of Daily Living – Forgetting steps in routine personal care like brushing teeth. Messy eating or drinking. Confusion using appliances, medications, managing finances, etc. Losing track of season, date, time, or location. Wandering or getting lost in unfamiliar places.

Are there any early signs of dementia I should know?

There are 10 key early symptoms to be aware of that may indicate dementia:

– Memory loss affecting day-to-day abilities
– Difficulty performing familiar tasks
– Problems with language like forgetting words or names
– Disorientation in time or place
– Impaired judgment or poor decision making
– Problems with abstract thinking
– Misplacing items and being unable to retrace steps
– Changes in mood, personality or behavior
– Increased anxiety, frustration or anger
– Loss of initiative and withdrawal from work or social activities

Paying attention to these early symptoms allows you to get medical assistance sooner and start treatment earlier, which offers the best chance of slowing further decline. However, having one or two of these symptoms does not necessarily mean one has dementia, as they can be caused by other conditions like depression, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, infections and some medications. Seeing a doctor is important for a full evaluation.

What lifestyle factors increase my risk for dementia?

Research has identified several lifestyle factors that appear to increase one’s risk of developing dementia:

– Cardiovascular disease – Heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels in midlife increase dementia risk.

– Smoking – Smokers have a significantly higher risk of dementia compared to nonsmokers. Quitting even later in life can reduce risk.

– Obesity – Having a BMI over 30 in midlife is linked to elevated dementia risk. Carrying extra weight increases inflammation and insulin resistance.

– Diabetes – High blood sugar levels and insulin resistance promote inflammation and damage blood vessels in the brain. Properly managing diabetes can reduce dementia risk.

– Physical inactivity – Low levels of regular aerobic exercise appear associated with greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

– Social isolation – Loneliness and lack of social connections are tied to poorer cognitive health long-term. Social stimulation may help reduce risk.

– Sleep disorders – Sleep apnea and disrupted sleep cycles are linked to poorer cognitive function. Treating sleep disorders may help.

– Depression – A history of depression, especially in one’s 50s and 60s, seems to predict greater dementia vulnerability. Seeking treatment for depressive symptoms is advised.

– Low education – Less education is correlated with higher dementia risk, though the exact reasons are unclear. Mentally stimulating activities may help build cognitive reserves.

– Hearing loss – Hearing impairment in older adults is associated with poorer cognitive function and more severe dementia. Properly treating hearing loss may help.

How can you slow the progression of dementia?

While there is currently no cure for dementia, several lifestyle changes and medical treatments can help slow the progression of symptoms and delay further decline in functioning:

Physical Exercise

Engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise may help slow decline from dementia. Recommendations are for 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise like brisk walking, swimming, cycling or dancing. Strength training twice a week is also advised.

Healthy Diet

Eating a heart healthy diet may benefit the brain. This includes a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, poultry and olive oil. Avoiding processed and high-sugar foods is also recommended.

Cognitive Training

Mentally stimulating activities like puzzles, strategy/memory games, learning new skills and reading may help strengthen cognitive reserves and delay symptoms. Even simple activities like brisk walking while reciting poetry may be beneficial.

Stress Management

Chronic stress may exacerbate symptoms and hasten decline in dementia. Relaxation techniques like yoga, mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, massage and music therapy can help manage stress levels.

Social Engagement

Staying socially engaged and avoiding isolation through community/family interactions seems to benefit cognitive health and quality of life. Join a senior center, volunteer group or support network to stay connected.

Task Simplification

Modifying activities by breaking tasks into easier steps, using memory aids like checklists and calendars, and developing consistent routines can help optimize independence. Remove clutter and distracting stimuli at home.


Certain Alzheimer’s medications like cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine may help temporarily slow worsening of dementia symptoms for some individuals. Discuss options with your doctor.

Quality Sleep

Getting at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep allows the brain to effectively clear toxins. Establish a regular sleep schedule. Limit caffeine, exercise earlier, and keep the bedroom cool and dark.

What caregiving strategies help manage dementia symptoms?

Caring for someone with dementia poses many challenges. Some caregiving techniques that can help manage symptoms and behaviors include:

Communication Tips

– Speak slowly and clearly. Use simple words and short sentences.

– Limit distractions and noise in the environment when talking.

– Ask one question at a time. Wait patiently for responses.

– Avoid arguing if they are confused. Instead, reassure them or engage in a pleasant activity.

Memory Aids

– Use labels, signs, photos and schedules to orient them and provide reminders.

– Keep items, such as glasses and keys, in consistent places.

– Use clocks, calendars, whiteboards, lists and notes to help keep track of time, tasks, and people’s names.


– Keep consistent times for meals, bathing, medications, and sleep.

– Minimize unexpected schedule disruptions when possible.

– Gently guide the person through regular daily activities like brushing teeth.


– Keep living spaces uncluttered and well-lit to minimize confusion and falls.

– Use touch or verbal cues to redirect wandering. Eliminate locked doors and hide remote controls.

– Play soothing music, use essential oils, or pictures from the past to help relax agitation.


– Offer reassurance, encouragement, hugs, or praise to maintain a bond.

– Engage them in enjoyable activities that incorporate movement, senses and social interaction.

– Avoid correcting confused thoughts. Instead, listen and empathize.

What foods and supplements help dementia symptoms?

While no single food or supplement can prevent or cure dementia, some dietary additions that may help slow cognitive decline include:


Fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants like vitamin E (nuts, seeds), vitamin C (citrus, peppers), beta-carotene (carrots, sweet potatoes) and flavonoids (berries, tea) may help protect brain cells.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Foods containing anti-inflammatory omega-3s like fish, walnuts, olive oil, flax and chia seeds may benefit brain health.

B Vitamins

B vitamins like folate and B12 found in leafy greens, beans, citrus fruits, dairy and eggs help reduce harmful homocysteine levels that can damage blood vessels.

Vitamin D

Low vitamin D is associated with dementia. Exposure to sunlight and foods like fatty fish, eggs, liver and fortified dairy can help boost levels.


Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits that may protect the brain.

Cocoa Flavanols

These plant compounds in chocolate appear to promote blood vessel health in the brain and enhance cellular signaling.


Some research suggests caffeine may help lower risk of dementia by enhancing brain signaling. Both coffee and tea also contain protective antioxidants.

However, supplements containing high doses of single vitamins or other compounds can sometimes be harmful rather than beneficial overall. It is best to consume these brain-healthy compounds in food sources along with a varied, well-balanced diet.

What conventional treatments help dementia symptoms?

There are a few conventional medical treatments that may temporarily help cognitive function for some individuals:

Cholinesterase Inhibitors

These Alzheimer’s medications include donepezil, galantamine and rivastigmine. They work by blocking the breakdown of acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter for memory, attention and thinking. This may help temporarily improve or stabilize symptoms.

NMDA Receptor Blockers

Memantine blocks NMDA receptors involved in glutamate signaling overload that damages neurons. This may provide mild improvement in memory, speaking, reasoning and other cognitive abilities for up to a year.


SSRIs like citalopram may help relieve depressive symptoms that often accompany dementia. This may improve mood, appetite and overall quality of life.


Medications like benzodiazepines that reduce anxiety may help control nervousness, agitation or restlessness associated with dementia. This can ease distress and challenging behaviors.


Used sparingly and for short periods, atypical antipsychotics like quetiapine may help relieve hallucinations, paranoia, agitation and aggression in some cases of dementia. However, these increase risk of stroke and death in dementia and should be avoided if possible. Always discuss options thoroughly with a doctor before using any medications.

Are there any alternative therapies that help dementia?

Some complementary approaches that may help improve quality of life and reduce behavioral issues for individuals with dementia include:

– Music therapy – Listening to soothing, familiar music can reduce agitation and improve mood. Singing or playing simple instruments along provides cognitive stimulation.

– Pet therapy – Gentle interaction with gentle, well-trained animals like dogs or cats provides sensory stimulation and comfort. It enhances socialization and provides a sense of purpose.

– Massage therapy – Professional massage improves relaxation, sleep and mood. Simple hands on touch from caregivers also communicates caring and reassurance.

– Aromatherapy – Inhaling relaxing scents like lavender, sweet orange, bergamot and frankincense essential oils helps reduce anxiety, agitation and depression.

– Light therapy – Increased exposure to full spectrum daylight or artificial bright light helps regulate circadian rhythms and boosts mood. This enhances sleep quality.

– Acupuncture – This therapy may relieve pain, enhance quality of life and reduce behavioral problems associated with dementia. More research is still needed.

– Yoga and meditation – Simple breathing exercises, restorative postures and guided imagery helps reduce stress. These practices bring comfort, self-awareness and a sense of peace.

Always consult a qualified practitioner specialized in working with dementia patients regarding proper and safe use of these therapies. Carefully monitor any effects. Certain sensory therapies like massage can sometimes increase agitation or resistance.

What are some other coping tips for living with dementia?

In addition to medical interventions, those living with dementia can benefit from various lifestyle adaptations and coping strategies:

– Take things step by step. Break tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. Write things down in a planner.

– Focus on enjoying time in the present rather than worrying about the future. Engage in simple pleasant activities.

– Spend time outdoors breathing fresh air and observing nature. Sunlight exposure helps mood and sleep.

– Listen to favorite uplifting music or watch cheerful old movies. Nostalgia brings comfort.

– Look at photo albums to trigger positive memories and provide a sense of identity.

– Keep treasured mementos and nostalgic items around to help orient thoughts.

– Reminisce about distant memories which are often intact rather than focusing on short-term memory loss.

– Stay socially active with loved ones. Touching base regularly combats isolation.

– Join a dementia support group. Sharing stories and guidance is therapeutic.

– Take care of health with diet, exercise and rest. Adequate nutrition and deep sleep aid cognition.

– Focus on meaningful activities that provide purpose – folding laundry, sweeping floors or helping with chores.

– Use stress management techniques like stretching, meditation and deep breathing to stay calm.


Dementia involves gradual cognitive decline that eventually interferes with daily life. While incurable and progressive, implementing lifestyle, dietary, social and conventional treatment interventions allows individuals to enjoy quality time throughout the stages. Careful management of symptoms, engaging in joyful activities, and emphasizing dignity and relationships for those affected allows people to continue living meaningfully with dementia. Support networks are key to managing the challenges for both caregivers and care recipients.

Leave a Comment