Fall River Jewish Home

What is Advanced Dementia?

When reaching the end of life, those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or advanced dementia often present special issues for caregivers. They can become increasingly disabled after living with the disease for years, and this can continue for many years.

It can be difficult to think of advanced dementia as being a terminal disease. However, it can, and sometimes does, lead to death. In most cases, individuals plagued by advanced dementia will require Alzheimer’s care in geriatric services.

Symptoms of Advanced Dementia

Although Alzheimer’s progresses at various rates, the symptoms worsen over time. Typically, a person will only live 4 to 8 years after being diagnosed with the disease, but could live as long as 20 years. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, changes to the brain connected with Alzheimer’s happen years prior to the patient showing any signs of this condition. This is known as preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.

The needs of the sufferer change and deepen. Tasks like brushing their own hair or reading a menu can become extremely challenging. People with advanced dementia typically:

  • Have difficulty with swallowing and eating
  • Need help walking or simply can’t walk at all
  • Need full-time personal care
  • Are susceptible to infections, particularly pneumonia
  • Lose the ability to use words for communicating

What a Caregiver Can Do

When it gets down to the later stages of this condition, your job as a caregiver is to preserve quality of life. Although the sufferer usually loses the ability to express their needs or even talk, part of them still remains.  This means you can and should still make the effort to connect with them during the later stages of advanced dementia.

When it gets to this point, you can express your care through sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight. For instance, you can play their favorite music, look at old photographs with them, sit outside on a nice day together, make their favorite food, brush their hair, etc.

Late-Stage Options of Care

Because those suffering from advanced dementia require more extensive care, you might not be able to provide everything they need at home. You might have to move them to a local Alzheimer’s care facility so they can get the care they need.

Hospice is another option. The idea behind hospice is that it offers care, comfort, and support for the patients and their families and focuses on dignity and quality.  The patient who has Alzheimer’s disease needs to be diagnosed by a physician as having 6 months or less to live in order to qualify for hospice care through Medicare.

Conversations having to do with end-of-life care wishes should ideally be discussed while the dementia patient is still able to share wishes and make decisions about life-sustaining treatment.

Are you currently a caregiver of a loved one with Alzheimer’s? What kind of treatment or care do they need? Please share in the comments below!

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