The Physical Symptoms of Late-Stage Dementia

The Physical Symptoms of Late-Stage Dementia

When we think about a dementia diagnosis, we often consider it to be related to a cognitive decline — we think it’s a purely mental illness that affects an individual’s thought, memory, and their decision-making abilities.

However, dementia has certain physical symptoms that can present themselves during the later stages of the illness. Coupled with cognitive challenges, these physical hurdles make eating, communicating, bathing, dressing, walking and other Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) difficult, unfeasible, and, at times, dangerous.

If a loved one is living with a dementia diagnosis, round the clock, flexible live-in dementia care may not only be necessary during moments where physical challenges present themselves, but also during the earlier stages of the illness when memory has begun to falter.

While physical symptoms may progress slowly for some, physical challenges can become apparent sooner than anticipated for others. Physical symptoms also vary between types of dementia. Here are a few general ways dementia can affect a person’s physical movement and some activities that can help improve their well-being following a diagnosis.

Loss of Balance

As neural communication becomes restrained and limited throughout the body, people living with dementia will often struggle to process information about their surrounding environment; this causes them to experience difficulties with navigation and their balance. A loss of balance may lead to an increased risk of slips, trips, and falls, which can have devastating consequences.


Those living with certain types of dementia (like Lewy Body Dementia) can experience tremors — jerky, uncontrolled motions in their limbs.

Contractures and Rigidity

Some people living with dementia can experience contractures (a permanent tightening) in their skin, internal tissue, ligaments, and tendons, which can result in a loss of range of motion. Others may see challenges with their muscles, where the muscle becomes rigid and difficult to move.

Challenges with Chewing and Swallowing

Those living with dementia can forget to chew and swallow. They may also tire easily when eating, which can mean they don’t get adequate nutrition. This also poses a severe risk of choking. For this reason alone, as mentioned above, 24-7 care is a necessity for those living with dementia, especially during the late stages when these symptoms may present.

A Reduced or Delayed Ability to Get Up

For some people, the brain struggles to process and transmit messages to the body parts responsible for moving (otherwise known as Apraxia). Those living with dementia may struggle to get out of bed in the morning or rise from a chair or a seated position.

Physical Activities for Those Living with Dementia

There are exercises and changes to daily life that those living with dementia can implement to delay the physical advancement of the illness, including embracing a healthy diet. The ideal diet is low in highly saturated fats and overly processed foods but high in whole foods, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and lean proteins. Cutting back on smoking and alcohol is also strongly advised.

It’s also recommended that those living with dementia partake in gentle exercise. Some suitable outlets include:

  • Short, slow walks.
  • Light gardening.
  • Light housework.
  • Chair yoga.
  • Swimming or aqua fitness.
  • Tai Chi.

All these activities offer light exercise that can improve balance and muscle strength. They also provide some cognitive and emotional merits, including being social and the confidence boost which comes with trying something new.

Dementia is a devastating illness for the person with the diagnosis and their family members. One crucial consideration includes seeking out in-home care; not only will this help keep your loved one safe, but it will also keep worried minds as at ease as possible.