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1.8 Progression of dementia

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

It’s hard to predict how quickly dementia will progress

Often dementia progresses slowly over time. But doctors find it hard to predict how fast you will progress. Age, the type of dementia, physical health and other factors affect how fast dementia progresses.

  • On average, people live from 1.1 to 8.5 years after receiving a dementia diagnosis. However, some people live for up to 20 years.
  • Younger people who are diagnosed before the age of 65 may pass away 10-20 years earlier than expected because of their dementia.
  • People who develop dementia over the age of 65, pass away about 1 to 9 years earlier than expected.

A healthy lifestyle might delay progression of dementia. It will also improve your overall health and reduce your risk of other chronic diseases. We know a lot about lifestyle modifications that can reduce the risk of dementia. Aerobic exercise and resistance training, a Mediterranean diet, managing heart health and staying socially and mentally active can reduce risk of dementia. It is also plausible that these risk factors can delay progression of dementia. For more information read pages in the section Supporting wellbeing.

Decline and getting support

Over time, people with dementia experience more symptoms and have trouble doing things for themselves. See the page Dementia makes it harder to manage at home.

As the disease spreads, dementia interferes with how the brain controls the body. This can lead to poor coordination and balance, difficulty walking and increased risk of falls. It can also result in incontinence. People with dementia become increasingly frail and may have trouble swallowing or breathing. They usually pass away because of medical complications or an infection such as pneumonia.

As dementia progresses, there is help available. There are services which help you to keep having a meaningful life and continue living at home.

Some people with dementia may go into a nursing home

Most people want to live in their own home and not in a nursing home. Many families want to continue to support their person at home and avoid residential aged care if possible. Unfortunately, some people with dementia have to go into a nursing home because they do not have someone who can support them at home, or because their family and friends are not able to support them to live at home safely.

It is not inevitable that you will go into a nursing home. About 70% of Australians with dementia live in the community, and 30% live in a nursing home. We know that some treatments and supports which help people adjust to dementia also delay their need to go into a nursing home. Even though it might seem like using services might mean you’re giving up some independence, they might actually be helping you keep your independence. These services often help you to stay in your own home for longer. If you end up in hospital, doctors are more likely to let you go home if you have services in place to support you there.

Plan for the future to stay 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 need to go into a nursing home. Planning can help you feel better prepared for the future, and can make things easier for your family. Planning can include visiting nursing homes and deciding on the one you’d prefer to go to if needed.

Also read the section Making plans and decisions.