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Alzheimer's disease health centre

Dementia - What will happen?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Most types of dementia cannot be cured. The symptoms will get worse over time. The only exception is dementia that happens suddenly after a stroke. Sometimes doctors can reverse this, although it's not always possible.

Your doctor probably won't be able to tell you how quickly the condition will get worse or how soon the disease will affect day-to-day life.

Everyone's different. Some people get worse gradually over several years. Others get worse suddenly, over a few months. Some have long periods when they don't get any worse, followed by short periods when they do.[23][4] But eventually most people with dementia will need help to do everyday things, like getting washed and dressed.

Getting the right treatment and support can make a difference.[24] For example, treatment with one of the drugs that helps with forgetfulness and confusion can mean that someone with Alzheimer's or another type of dementia may be able to stay at home longer before needing full-time care in a nursing home.

As the disease gets worse, people with dementia can become difficult to understand.[25] Many people also behave differently. They become restless and easily upset. They may try to wander from home. Some people become aggressive, shouting or lashing out. Many people feel depressed or lose interest in life.

Others have delusions (they imagine that something is happening when it isn't) or hallucinations (they see things that aren't there). There are drugs that can help some people who have these symptoms.[15]

This is what we know from the research:

  • The worse symptoms are at the beginning of the disease, the sooner someone will need help looking after himself or herself

  • People who have symptoms such as hallucinations or depression get worse more quickly than people who don't.

  • People whose behaviour is hard to manage get worse more quickly.[26]

People with Alzheimer's or another type of dementia will have some days that are better than others. This is because the ability to do things can change from day to day, or even hour to hour.[24] If you're looking after somebody with dementia, this can be confusing. Sometimes, you may feel that the person is being deliberately difficult.

Someone with dementia might realise that their partner or carer notices 'problems' that they do not. This can leave them feeling uncertain about themselves and the world.[20] They can feel anxious and angry, and lash out at those around them, especially in the later stages of the disease when they feel they have no control over their life.

Some people with early dementia may wish to plan for the future. They may want to discuss options for treatment with their relatives. Some people write an advance directive. This lets others know what treatment and care they want in the future.[24] People with dementia can lose the ability to keep track of money. So, it's important to decide who should help with decisions about money and health care.

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Last Updated: June 20, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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