Dementia is a fairly progressive brain disease, causing those who suffer from it to generally follow a fairly usual pattern of decline. People with dementia typically start by having difficulty remembering new information like recent conversations or names. Next, they may have trouble planning or completing usual tasks, and may show signs of depression or apathy as a result. As individuals reach the late stage dementia symptoms, however, they can forget how to do an assortment of seemingly routine tasks and essential functions, making for a significant decline in their everyday functioning.
In this article, we will review many of the symptoms your loved one will likely experience as they reach the later stages of dementia, and how hospice care for dementia patients can help.
Common Symptoms of Late Stage Dementia
The later stages of dementia can be among the most difficult for dementia patients, as they often have many more symptoms and are likely to experience major memory loss and cognitive decline. These symptoms include:
As a person nears the final stages of dementia, nearly all recent memories can be lost completely, causing dementia patients to only hold on to parts of past memories. With that in mind, your loved one may come to believe that they are living in an earlier time period (perhaps from when they were younger) or may process events and emotions as they did in the past. This can also often cause patients with severe dementia to confuse those around them (partners, friends, family) for other people, or to forget who they are completely. That said, if your loved one forgets who you are, don’t take it personally. Remember that this severe memory loss is caused by the progression of their dementia, and that not being able to remember those closest to them is as emotionally confusing for them as it is for you.
Difficulty Concentrating and Planning
Another common symptom of those suffering late-stage dementia is a difficulty concentrating (or concentrating on a task from more than a few minutes). For example, your loved one may find it difficult to complete simple activities such as getting the mail or brushing one’s teeth. Additionally, late-stage dementia patients may find it near impossible to plan ahead, and may find in challenging to recognize where they are in time.
People in the later stages of dementia become increasingly frail, often losing their ability to walk, stand or get up from a chair or bed. Furthermore, they may find it more difficult to balance themselves, making them more prone to falls and other mobility issues. This can often put a lot of strain on caregivers, as patients will come to increasingly rely on them for everything from going to the restroom to moving around the house.
One thing to keep in mind: as a person’s mobility decreases, their risk of developing blood clots and infections increases. You can help your loved one avoid these repercussions by encouraging them to move around as much as they can or performing chair-based exercises.
People with late-stage dementia often have trouble communicating verbally, and may not be able to fully understand what is being said to them. Other times, patients may make ‘talk’ in ways that don’t make sense or repeat the same phrase or sound over and over. To work around this, you can try to communicate with your loved one by maintaining eye contact, smiling and using non-verbal communication (facial expressions and body language) to communicate. Your loved one may respond similarly, in response, using gestures, sounds and behaviors to communicate their feelings and needs.
People who experience the late stages of dementia commonly act out of character in a variety of ways. Late stage dementia patients, for example, are more prone to feeling distress, agitation or confusion, often making them unsure of where they are, or who they are with, and can sometimes act aggressively. For example, if you try to help them and they don’t know why, they might feel threatened. Some people with late-stage dementia may also experience hallucinations—experiencing things that aren’t really there–or become restless–often causing them to practitioners or pace back and forth.
The Benefits of Hospice Care For Dementia Patients
The later stages of dementia can be a challenging time both for the person experiencing dementia and for those close to them. Fortunately, hospice care is available for patients with late-stage dementia who have received a diagnosis of six months or less to live. Hospice care for dementia patients is a specialized form of care for those facing a life-threatening illness or those nearing their end of life.
Based on the philosophy that care should include more than attending to a patient’s symptoms, hospice care addresses a patients physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs, as well as that of their caregivers. Hospice care practitioners will work to offer your loved one relief from the symptoms of late-stage dementia and take active steps to improve their quality of life. In addition, hospice care will work with caregivers to clarify care goals, provide respite care and give emotional support and guidance, when necessary.
Once a patient begins experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is time to speak with a hospice professional about how they can help provide added care and support. Keep in mind that because individuals with advanced dementia often have difficulty communicating, it is crucial that caregivers keep a close eye on their loved one for the aforementioned signs.
Speak to Harbor Light Hospice For More Information
For more information about the symptoms of late-stage dementia to find out how a hospice care provider can assist you and your loved one, contact Harbor Light Hospice. Our hospice care program provides comprehensive care for hundreds of dementia patients coping with the final stages of dementia. Find out how our compassionate, reliable hospice care service teams and extensive network of hospice volunteers can improve the quality of life for you and your loved one today!