Palliative Care for Dementia: End-of-Life Signs

Dementia is a progressive neurological condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide. The most common type of Dementia is Alzheimer’s. As these conditions advance, individuals and their families may face difficult decisions regarding end-of-life care.

Palliative care is a holistic approach focused on improving quality of life for individuals with serious illnesses. Even though Dementia is not a curable disease, there are many medications and treatments that can ease symptoms and promote quality of life.

Let’s explore the concept of palliative care for individuals with dementia, as well as discuss the end-of-life signs to look out for.

Understanding Palliative Care for Dementia

Palliative care aims to alleviate symptoms, manage pain and provide support for individuals and families. It focuses on improving quality of life by enhancing comfort, promoting dignity and ensuring the individual’s wishes are respected.

Unlike hospice care, palliative care does allow for curative treatments. It can also be implemented at any part of the person’s journey – not just during end-of-life. This is important to know, as palliative care is best provided soon after a person’s diagnosis.

End-of-Life Signs in Dementia

Dementia is a progressive condition that has an average life expectancy of 8-10 years. However, some people end up living with the disease for 15-20 years! Here are the signs that an individual is approaching the end of life with dementia.

  • Decline in cognitive function. As dementia progresses, there is a gradual decline in cognitive function. The individual may experience increased confusion, disorientation, difficulty recognizing loved ones and trouble communicating. The FAST score for dementia may assist in the degree of dementia your loved one is experiencing.
  • Changes in physical functioning. Physical functioning may deteriorate as the disease advances. Individuals may have difficulty with mobility, experience muscle weakness and require assistance with daily activities such as eating, dressing and bathing.
  • Weight loss and decreased appetite. Loss of appetite is common in late-stage dementia. As a result, individuals may experience weight loss and become more susceptible to infections.
  • Swallowing difficulties. In advanced stages of dementia, swallowing difficulties may arise. This can lead to an increased risk of choking, aspiration and pneumonia. It is common for dementia patients to eat less and sleep more. Feeding tubes are unlikely to assist in their quality of life.
  • Changes in sleep patterns. Sleep disturbances, including nighttime restlessness, increased agitation and confusion, are frequently observed in individuals with advanced dementia.
  • Increased susceptibility to infections. The weakened immune system of individuals with advanced dementia makes them more vulnerable to infections such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.
  • Reduced ability to communicate. Communication abilities decline significantly as dementia progresses. Individuals may have difficulty expressing their needs, understanding others and engaging in coherent conversations.
  • Withdrawal and social disengagement. Individuals may gradually withdraw from social interactions, preferring solitude or minimal stimulation. They may lose interest in activities and hobbies that were once enjoyed and become less responsive to external stimuli.

Seeking Support and Guidance

Palliative care plays a vital role in supporting individuals with dementia during the end-of-life journey. By understanding the late signs associated with these conditions, your family can be better prepared to provide appropriate care and support to your loved one.

To learn more about your options for palliative care, contact VNA Health Group today. Our Palliative Care Program offers comfort care, symptom management and end-of-life planning and is usually paid for by Medicare or Medicaid.

07.27.2023

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