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1.8 Progression of dementia

Some people want to know everything about dementia including what will happen in the future. Some people aren’t ready to think about the future yet. Read this article when you’re ready.

It’s hard to predict how soon or how quickly dementia will progress

Often dementia progresses slowly over time. How quickly dementia progresses will be different for each person. Age, the type of dementia, physical health and other factors that we don’t fully understand influence how fast dementia progresses. 

  • On average people live for between 4 and 8 years after being given a diagnosis of dementia, however some people live for up to 20 years.
  • Younger people who get dementia before the age of 65 years may pass away 10-20 years earlier than expected because of their dementia.
  • People who develop dementia after the age of 65, pass away about 1 to 9 years earlier than expected because of dementia  

A healthy lifestyle might delay the progression of dementia. We know a lot about lifestyle risk factors that can reduce risk of dementia. Aerobic exercise and resistance training, a Mediterranean diet, managing heart health and staying socially and mentally active can reduce the risk of dementia. It is also possible but not shown scientifically that these risk factors could delay progression of dementia. For more information read articles in the section Supporting wellbeing

People with dementia eventually decline and will need additional support

It can take a long time or happen more quickly, but people with dementia usually find that over time they have more symptoms and more trouble doing things for themselves. See the page Dementia makes it harder to manage at home. 

As dementia progresses, it damages the brain more and interferes with the brain’s ability to control the body. This leads to people with dementia having poor coordination and balance – making things like dressing and bathing more difficult. Over time they may have trouble walking and are at increased risk of falls. Dementia can also result in incontinence. In the later stages of dementia, people become increasingly frail, and may have trouble swallowing or breathing. They usually pass away because of medical complications or an infection such as pneumonia. 

There are services and supports available when you need help. 

Some people with dementia may go into a long-term home 

Most people living with dementia, as well as their family members and friends, would like the person living with dementia to continue living in their own home for as long as possible. However, there may come a time when a person with dementia needs to move to a long-term care home (or nursing home) because their care needs are beyond what family members and friends can provide to help them live at home safely. 

It is not inevitable that you will move into a long-term care home. Over 60% of Canadians with dementia live in the community. We know that some treatments and supports which help people adapt to dementia also delay their need to move into a long-term care home. Even though it may seem like using services might mean you’re giving up some independence, it is actually the opposite. Using services can mean that you are able to remain independent and stay in your own home longer.  

Planning for the future can help you feel in control

Some people with dementia choose to prepare for a time when their dementia gets worse and they can no longer make decisions, or might need to move into a long-term care home. Taking the time to plan ahead helps both the person living with dementia and their family and friends feel better prepared and more supported for the future. Planning ahead might involve visiting a long-term care home in case it is needed in the future, or thinking about who you would like to make decisions for you if you are no longer able.  

Also read the section Making plan and decisions. 

Woman facing the future