Dementia can make it hard to care for a parent or grandparent. Patients with dementia gradually lose their ability to think, remember and reason. Dementia is an umbrella term for a decline in cognition, and several conditions can cause it. Around 60 to 80 percent of those with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease.
If your loved one has dementia, you may need help caring for them and determining when it’s time for hospice.
Understanding Dementia & Its Symptoms
Many patients have dementia for years and experience a slow decline in memory and thinking skills. Dementia targets one’s ability to recall, concentrate and use language. Often, patients have trouble remembering recent events or things they need to do. Patients may also have difficulty planning or finding the right words to use.
Your loved one with dementia may:
- Forget to pay bills
- Be unable to find everyday items like keys, wallets or purses
- Forget about appointments
- Forget to prepare meals
- Get lost outside of their home or neighborhood
- Struggle to carry out a sequence of tasks
- Be unable to follow a conversation
- Lose track of time or the date
- Repeat the same question or conversation
Patients that struggle with dementia may be unable to communicate their wishes clearly. As a caregiver, you may work with a hospice team to make decisions in the patient’s best interest. Keep the patient’s personality and values in mind if you are in a situation where it falls to you to make care decisions.
Dementia in the Final Months of Life
As dementia progresses, it can show more severe symptoms. Late-stage dementia can cause severe memory loss. Patients may stop recognizing family members or lose their ability to understand and use speech. They may feel distressed or agitated, or they may become aggressive.
Not all patients experience the same symptoms. Hospice teams know how to provide comfort for dementia patients in their final days, and they have experience with the dying process. Hospice for dementia patients helps provide peace and comfort.
Final Six Months
Before starting hospice, patients are often diagnosed with another condition like cancer or heart failure. Your loved one may visit the hospital several times depending on their health and the symptoms of their conditions. Sometimes an increase in hospital visits is a sign that it’s time for hospice.
Hospice programs are familiar with Medicare’s guidelines for those with dementia. Patients must have a prognosis of six months or less to live in order to receive hospice. Early intervention is always better, so the patient can receive the full benefits of hospice’s comfort care and emotional support.
Final Two-Three Months
As a patient gets closer to the end, they may experience limited speech, difficulty swallowing and incontinence. They may be unable to walk or sit without help. Dementia patients who can no longer eat may be confused or distressed by feeding tubes and IVs.
In a patient’s final days, they may experience agitation and spend more time sleeping. Patients may be unable to swallow, or they may experience changes in breathing. Your loved one will need help with everything and may not be able to speak more than a few words.
Caregiver Perspective: Focus On The Good
Caring for someone with dementia is challenging. The person may not remember you or important life moments. They may be unable to communicate clearly, or you may see changes in their personality. It is hard to be in these situations, trying to support someone who does not seem like the person you love and remember.
Know that you are not alone. Caregivers need support just like patients do! Try not to dwell on the bad days—no matter how many there are. Cherish the good days you have and have had with your loved one. Hospice services provide help for caregivers of dementia patients by supporting their needs as well.
Tips for Caring for Parents with Dementia at Home
As a caregiver, you have one of the most challenging jobs out there: caring for someone as their body and mind fails. You may be doing things you never thought you would, like bathing or feeding your loved one. Caring for parents with dementia at home is not easy, but it can be rewarding. You have the chance to spend more time with your loved one and help them find comfort.
Manage Pain with Hospice Care
A hospice team’s goal is to ensure the patient is as comfortable as possible. Hospice teams include registered nurses, certified nurse’s aides, medical social workers and spiritual counselors. These individuals work with the patient’s physician to manage their symptoms. Managing pain helps patients feel more at ease and improves their quality of life.
Empathize with Your Loved One
Caring for someone with dementia means you are going to have bad days. Being a caregiver is often frustrating and exhausting. Remember to treat your loved one with compassion no matter what happens. Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you couldn’t remember a conversation from a few hours ago? How would you feel if you were unable to move around or sit up by yourself?
Create A Familiar Environment
Sometimes it helps those with dementia to be in a familiar environment. Being in their own home can be soothing. Patients can receive hospice care at home, in a nursing home or in the hospital. If your loved one cannot be at home, try filling their room or bedside with familiar things. You could bring photos, blankets, beloved objects and even music.
Support Emotional & Cultural Needs
Some people identify with a culture, faith or religion. Try to support your loved one’s non-physical needs by helping them complete any rites or rituals that are important to them. A patient can receive spiritual support from their hospice team. Hospice programs can also connect patients to faith leaders in the community.
Be There — with Love
The most important thing caregivers can do is be present. You can be a supportive, loving presence for a parent, grandparent or loved one. Just sitting and spending time with someone can make a world of difference.
Is your loved one ready for hospice?
Contact Seasons Springfield to learn more about our hospice, caregiver support and bereavement services. We make the transition to hospice care as seamless as possible for those in the Springfield, MO area.