Dementia is a disease that progresses over time. It causes loss of mental and physical function. As dementia advances, people have difficulty with everyday tasks like going to the toilet, washing, eating and drinking. They have more problems with making decisions, being able to remember recent events, and thinking things through. Changes in behaviour and personality are common.
There is no cure for dementia. The disease usually follows a long, slow pattern of decline over many years. Often, by the time a person enters a residential aged care facility, they have advanced dementia. People with dementia often have other diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure and chest disease. These diseases can add to the frailty and decline of a person with dementia.
How do you know when a person with dementia is coming to the end of their life?
It can be difficult to know when a person with dementia is approaching the end of their life. However, some signs indicate a person is getting worse. They may sleep more of the day; eat less than normal and lose weight, or stop eating all together. Relatives and / or residential aged care staff looking after a resident may notice that things are ‘not quite right’. Behaviours and responses that have been usual for a person can change. Sometimes the person may become more agitated or distressed.
Palliative care is important for people with advanced dementia. A palliative care approach can help to relieve pain and other distressing symptoms, and is based on the understanding that dementia is a terminal illness. The resident’s comfort is the main priority. The aim of palliative care is also to support families as well as residents. Many treatments that may be tried to prolong the life of people with dementia are quite traumatic and may have serious side effects, without improving the person’s quality of life. Also, moving a resident from the familiarity of their aged care facility to hospital can be distressing for them, and can make symptoms of confusion and agitation worse, with risk of new medical problems that relate to treatment. Palliative care aims to support people to be well-cared for and comfortable without the need to go to hospital.
Last updated 31 January 2017