Alzheimer’s Disease and Palliative Care
Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia. Dementia means that a person has difficulty with memory, judgment and reasoning. This might mean not recognizing your surroundings or people familiar to you, or not being able to find the right words or do certain tasks. The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease is age, but people under sixty can also develop the disease.
Facing Alzheimer’s Disease is very stressful for both the patient and family members. There is no cure for the disease, and patients will need more care and support as time goes on.
Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms and Treatment—How Palliative Care Can Help
Palliative (pronounced “pal-lee-uh-tiv”) care is specialized medical care for people facing serious illnesses like Alzheimer’s Disease. The goal is to improve quality of life for both you and your family. You can have palliative care at any age and at any stage of your illness. You can also have it together with curative treatment.
Palliative care is provided by a specially trained team of palliative care doctors, nurses, social workers and other specialists who work together with your other doctors to provide you with an extra layer of support.
Involving a palliative care team can be useful in several ways. Palliative care helps treat some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease, such as depression, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. The team can also teach you and your family about what might trigger some of the behavior symptoms and how to avoid them.
One of the main techniques used in planning your daily care is maintaining a routine. Others include physical exercise and memory therapy, which help you use your brain. A calm and quiet environment, proper lighting to decrease shadows and good sleep habits can help as well.
If you have other medical problems such as heart disease, lung disease or conditions that are painful, palliative care can ease the symptoms, including pain and stress, that these might cause.
Palliative care can be started any time after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease, but the earlier the better because a palliative care team can work as part of your support structure from the very beginning. The team helps manage your symptoms, but members of the team also focus on conversations about your goals, concerns and treatment options. They help you discuss what is important to you, how and where you want to be cared for and what level of care you would want in the future.
As the illness progresses, palliative care can help your family as they plan to care for you either at home, in an assisted living facility or a nursing home. Keeping you safe is critical. The team can give your family guidance and help them cope with these concerns and, later, with making decisions about feeding difficulties, infection, hospitalization and the best place for you to be cared for.
You can receive palliative care in the hospital, outpatient clinic and sometimes at home. Although Alzheimer’s Disease is difficult, when palliative care is involved some of the burden is eased and the best quality of life is achieved.
Patient Perspective: Living Well with Alzheimer’s Disease
How to Get Palliative Care
If you or a loved one needs palliative care, ask your doctor for a referral.
Additional Resources for Caregivers