The need for hospice care for dementia patients has never been greater. Dementia is expected to affect more than 78 million people worldwide by 2030, and there are currently 7 million Americans suffering its effects in the United States today.
In addition to the challenges faced by dementia patients themselves, those caring for them face a unique set of stresses as well. Caregivers will be faced with an increasing burden as physical and cognitive decline of a loved one progresses. In its final stages, this can tax financial and emotional reserves to the limit. The unique challenges hospice care for dementia presents requires professionals to take a considerate and methodical approach to caregiving for both the patient and their family. Dignity, comfort, and emotional wellbeing are all important components of compassionate hospice care, and courses like Fundamentals of Alzheimer’s Disease for Healthcare Providers can help keep healthcare providers up to date so they can provide the best services and support.
Hospice Care for Dementia Patients
Dementia is sometimes confused with specific age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s, but they are not interchangeable. Alzheimer’s is one form of dementia, which is a broad term relating to the loss of memory and cognition that can affect people as early as their 30s.
Dementia is a progressive illness, and sadly, there is no cure. While various treatments and therapies can support the patient through functionality challenges related to memory, language, perception, and behavior, dementia sufferers will require greater levels of assistance as they experience ongoing neurological decline.
Hospice is a special kind of care that guides patients through the stages of death and dying. Hospice care does not try to delay or hasten death in any way, but strives to affirm life by treating the person, not simply the disease from which they are suffering.
The public tends to view hospice care as something for patients with terminal cancer or end-stage renal or liver disease rather than neurological conditions like dementia. It’s easy to understand the physical decline caused by cancer infiltrating different body systems, but the slow deterioration of cognitive abilities can be equally debilitating. Both entail a terminal loss of function that can require dedicated hospice care and 24/7 support.
The fact is, hospice care for dementia presents tremendous value in relieving the physical and emotional distress experienced by patients and their families, while retaining their dignity through a terminal disease process. Hospice can offer patients an individualized plan of care in a setting of their choosing, and provide coordinated interdisciplinary services that are compassionate and patient-centered.
Providing Compassionate Care
Compassionate care is not a process, but a concept aimed at supporting the patient’s comfort and dignity through a terminal process. Truly compassionate care strives to appreciate the medical and emotional needs of the patient and their loved ones through a comprehensive approach.
Meeting Medical Needs
Proactive symptom management is especially important in the later stages of dementia where the patient and family members are often experiencing the greatest levels of stress. At a time when communication and physical abilities will likely be impaired—or even nonexistent—the patient will not be able to make their needs known and adjust themselves to address them.
Because of that, it’s vital that caregivers prioritize managing pain and discomfort. The administration of medication and interventions to support hydration can vastly improve a patient's comfort level and reduce their stress.
Counseling and Emotional Support
Counseling and education are critical for establishing a relationship between the hospice team and family and friends involved in care. This creates a dynamic with the patient at the center, and improves comfort and understanding of how caregivers can best respond as symptoms progress.
Also, because hospice care for dementia takes place during the end stages of life, it can be an emotionally and spiritually challenging time for everyone involved. By preserving dignity, creating an opportunity for communication and dialogue, and establishing a sense of teamwork, hospice care can relieve some of the pain and anxiety of the experience.
The stress that accompanies caring for a loved one living with a terminal disease, and the impact it can have on caregivers, should not be underestimated. It can be difficult and draining work, and the people involved will need to have space to process their emotions.
Hospice care can arrange for caregiver respite to give in-home care providers a break. This offers an opportunity for caregivers to avoid burnout and refresh themselves periodically, while ensuring the person they’re caring for is in the capable hands of healthcare professionals.
Grief Support For Family
Everyone processes grief and loss in a way that is unique to them. Many hospice service providers will extend support to families for one year following the death of a patient to help manage expression of—and coping with—grief.
Know the Importance of Providing Compassionate Care for Those with Dementia
Dementia is a terminal disease that can be a long, slow process of cognitive deterioration and loss of independence. Hospice care for dementia is a priceless resource that supports the patient as well as the family in the difficult final stages.
By providing counseling and educating caregivers on how to properly care for patients while supporting a concept of well-rounded compassionate care, the people close to them can feel confident the patient remains at the center of the conversation while having someone to lean on through their own coping process.
Educational offerings like Fundamentals of Alzheimer’s Disease for Healthcare Providers by Premiere guides the learner through fundamental concepts in cognitive decline, and risk factors while describing appropriate medicinal and non-medicinal treatment modalities.
All courses offered by Premiere are created by industry experts. Fundamentals of Alzheimer’s Disease for Healthcare Providers was created by Megan Arbour, PhD, RN, CNM, CNE
Associate Professor, Frontier Nursing University.