Dementia and Palliative Care

Dementia is a deterioration of the brain. Although the disease progresses slowly, it finally causes the brain to stop working. Families caring for a loved one with dementia need a lot of support and assistance. This is why getting palliative care early is important.

What is Palliative Care for Dementia

Palliative (pronounced “pal-lee-uh-tiv”) care is specialized medical care for people facing serious illnesses like dementia. The goal is to improve quality of life for both you and your family.

Palliative care is provided by a specially trained team of doctors, nurses and social workers who work together with your other doctors to give you an extra layer of support. You can have palliative care at any age and at any stage of the illness. You can also have it together with all other treatments.

Palliative care is as much about helping the family as it is about treating the person with dementia. The team is a very valuable resource for the caregivers. Family caregivers often face terrible stress on a 24/7 basis because a person with dementia may also gradually experience the loss of hand-eye coordination, motor skills and the ability to dress and bathe.

Dementia Symptoms and Treatment— How Palliative Care Can Help

People with dementia begin to not recognize hunger and thirst, and lose the ability to feed themselves and the ability to eat. Families and caregivers often must face heartbreaking decisions when a person can no longer eat. They may have to decide whether to use artificial feeding. Unfortunately, medical research shows that this feeding method does not actually works to prolong life. Feeding through a tube to the stomach or through a vein might even cause more lung infections and pneumonia.

Dementia is sometimes hard to see because it progresses slowly.  This is another challenge for caregivers. It is even harder because family members can get used to the slowly worsening “new normal.” Caregivers begin to do more and more without even realizing it, and they become exhausted.

Statistics show that people who are taking care of loved ones with dementia have a much higher risk of getting sick themselves. They may die earlier  compared to those who are not caregivers. Again, here’s where palliative care is so important. The team can help with in-depth communication and support for the family caregivers.

The palliative care team will see to it that a patient gets care in a skilled nursing facility if home care is no longer possible. Palliative care specialists will also help patients and families deal with the complex health care system. The goal is always quality of life.

How to Get Palliative Care

Ask your doctor for a referral, if you or a loved one needs palliative care.

Finding palliative care in your area is easy. Just go to the Palliative Care Provider Directory for a state-by-state list. To find out if palliative care is right for you, take our quiz.

Podcast: What Does Good Dementia Care Look Like?