Dementia occurs when the brain deteriorates. Over a slow progression that occurs over time, dementia eventually causes the brain to stop working. When a family cares for a loved one with dementia, it is important that they receive a lot of assistance and support. For this reason, receiving palliative care early in the disease is important.
Benefits of Palliative Care
Palliative care is a specialized type of medical care that is designed for people who are coping with serious long-term illnesses such as dementia. The main goal of this type of care is to improve quality of life for both you and your family. Palliative care can be given to you at any stage of your illness, and it is beneficial at every age. It can also be given to you along with your curative treatment.
When you receive palliative care, a team of doctors, social workers, nurses and other specialists work alongside your other physicians to provide you with an additional level of support.
Palliative care not only helps the patient who is suffering from dementia, but it also is meant to help the family as well. Family caregivers often deal with serious stress on a 24/7 basis, and palliative care teams are a tremendous resource during troublesome times. This is because dementia causes the patient’s fading memory to be eventually joined by the loss of motor skills, eye-hand coordination and the ability to bathe and dress independently. At the end stages, those with dementia require constant care because they begin to be unable to realize when they are hungry and thirsty, and they will no longer be able to feed themselves or eat.
When a patient can no longer eat, caregivers and family members must make heartbreaking decisions, unless the patient has set up clear medical directions during the earliest stages of their dementia. Often, they must make the decision regarding whether or not artificial feeding, which is a tube placed in the stomach or through a vein, is right for their loved one. Sadly, medical research demonstrates that neither type of feeding method is effective for prolonging life. It might also cause more lung infections, such as pneumonia.
Caregivers also encounter the challenge that dementia is sometimes hard to recognize because it progresses slowly. This is exacerbated by the fact that family members often get accustomed to the increasing deterioration and accept it as the “new normal.” Without noticing it, they begin to take on more responsibility for their loved one, and exhaustion finally hits. Statistically, caregivers of loved ones with dementia are at greater risk for illnesses, and even dying, than those who do not have caregiving responsibilities.
Once again, this is why palliative care is so essential. The team can provide support and in-depth communication that the caregivers need. They can also help make arrangements for paid caregivers to provide help in the patient’s home. When home care is no longer possible, the palliative care team will ensure that the patient can get care in a skilled nursing facility. Every team member is also highly trained in guiding patients and families as they deal with the complex health care system.
How to Receive Palliative Care
When you or a loved one needs palliative care, you can ask your physician for a referral. Or, you can contact Harbor Light Hospice directly to learn how our palliative care services can benefit you or a loved one.