Maintaining Quality of Life with Alzheimer’s: Palliative care can help
If you or a loved one are living with Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia, you know you are facing a difficult road ahead. The disease begins with memory loss, confusion and trouble making decisions, and gets worse over time, eventually affecting basic control over the body. But with the help of a medical specialty called palliative care, there is a lot that can be done to make people living with dementia more comfortable and reduce their distress.
Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with serious illness like Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is focused on improving quality of life for patients and their families, and it is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, social workers and other therapists who will work closely with your other doctors to give you an added layer of support.
Your palliative care team can help by assessing and treating the symptoms of dementia, such as anxiety, trouble sleeping or depression. They can also treat the symptoms of any other health problems you may have. Palliative care can also help caregivers establish a daily routine for care, help them recognize what sets off troubling behavior and recognize signs of distress. Your palliative care team will also make sure you and your caregivers have 24-hour support, so you can avoid unnecessary emergency room visits and hospital stays – a common problem for people living with dementia and their often exhausted caregivers.
As your disease progresses, your needs will change. Your palliative care team will help you and your family understand each stage of the illness and know what to expect, so that you can make important decisions about the future: like where you want to live and who will care for you and how. Palliative care can also support families in understanding the financial costs of care, including what Medicare will and won’t cover. Making choices that will protect your quality of life is important for you and for your family.
Palliative care for dementia can make all the difference for family caregivers. If you love someone who is living with Alzheimer’s Disease, you know that this degenerative brain disease affects the entire family. Together with the 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s Disease, there are another 15 million people who are providing care for people affected by this devastating illness and other dementias. Families caring for someone with dementia need a lot of support to tackle the everyday challenges of caregiving, and getting palliative care early is important.
Caregiving can take up a lot of time, can make it difficult to keep up at your job, resulting in financial pressures on top of those of caring for your loved one. The challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s often results in caregivers developing health problems of their own. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 35% of caregivers caring for someone with dementia say that their health as worsened because of their care responsibilities, compared with 19% of caregivers looking after older adults without dementia. Palliative care can help carry the load, helping you manage your caregiving and caring for you at the same time.
If you or someone you love needs palliative care, don’t wait to ask for a referral. Early involvement of palliative care can give you the added layer of support to help you and your family enjoy the best possible quality of life for as long as possible. You can ask your neurologist, or look for palliative care resources in your state at GetPalliativeCare.org/providers. Almost all large hospitals have palliative care teams, and it’s also available in outpatient clinics and for home visits, depending on your area.