How to tell when a person with dementia is nearing the end of their life

How To Tell When A Person With Dementia Is Nearing The End Of Their Life

When a loved one has late-stage dementia, knowing what to anticipate might be helpful. The loss of a loved one can be a difficult notion to grasp and comprehend. Understanding what is ahead can help you prepare both mentally and physically.

Knowing when a dementia patient is on the verge of passing away can be challenging. Early signs of the dying process may include indications of late-stage dementia and a rapid decline in the patient’s condition.

How long will someone with dementia live?

Although dementia is a life-limiting illness, it is exceedingly challenging to predict how long a person with dementia will live. Several factors influence this.

It may be easier to predict how long someone will live and how they will die if they also have another illness that may shorten their life (such as cancer or heart failure).

An individual can die from another illness at any stage of dementia. As a result, people might pass away before their dementia symptoms get severe.

A person in the final stages of dementia may deteriorate gradually over several months. Typically, at this time, they will:

  • become more feeble
  • experience infections and falls more frequently
  • have trouble swallowing, eating, and drinking
  • more likely to require immediate medical attention
  • become less mobile
  • more sleep
  • Talk less frequently.

A person with advanced dementia is more likely to have a compromised immune system. As a result, individuals are more likely to contract infections, which in some situations may be chronic. Pneumonia brought on by an infection is one of the most typical causes of death for dementia patients.

A person with advanced dementia may exhibit signs that indicate they are on the verge of passing away, yet they may still be able to function for several months. Planning and putting in place measures for someone’s passing become quite challenging due to this unpredictability.

What are the symptoms that a person with dementia is approaching the end of their life?

Knowing when a dementia patient is approaching the end of their life can help with providing the appropriate care. It can be challenging to determine the exact moment, though.

This unpredictability can significantly affect how the person feels and how their family, friends, and caregivers feel.

Late Stage Dementia

Your loved one with dementia will eventually enter the late stages of the disease. This stage is also known as advanced dementia or end-stage dementia. Their symptoms become acute at this point.

The person will experience difficulties performing routine tasks, including showering, getting dressed, eating, and using the restroom. They might not be able to walk or sit up without assistance and constantly require care. At this stage, they would become bedridden.

Additionally, they could lose their capacity to talk and make facial emotions like a smile. Seeing this transformation can be very difficult for family members.

Signs of late-stage dementia

Some later-stage dementia symptoms may indicate the patient is nearing the end of life. These include:

  • speech confined to single, potentially meaningless words or sentences
  • having trouble understanding what is being stated to them
  • needing assistance with most daily tasks
  • eating less and experiencing swallowing issues
  • bowel and bladder incontinence
  • having trouble sitting up, difficulty walking or standing, and becoming bedbound.

A person with dementia is likely nearing the end of their life if they exhibit most or all of these symptoms. They could also be very feeble, suffer from recurring infections, or have pressure ulcers (or bedsores).

Signs of the dying process

More changes are typical as a person’s condition deteriorates, and they are just days or hours away from dying. A person might:

  • deteriorate at a faster rate than before
  • become unconscious
  • be incapable of swallowing
  • become restless and agitated
  • develop an uneven breathing pattern
  • have breathing that sounds chesty or rattling
  • have chilly feet and hands.

These changes are common during the dying process, and the person is frequently unaware of what is happening.

What assistance may medical professionals offer at this point?

Healthcare providers can explain these changes to you so you comprehend what is happening.

Medical personnel might intervene to lessen the patient’s suffering. If the patient cannot swallow, they can administer medication via skin patches, small injections, or syringe pumps, which deliver a constant flow of medication through a tiny needle under the patient’s skin. Consult your general practitioner or another qualified healthcare provider about this.

How can you manage dementia end-of-life symptoms of your loved one?

It’s crucial for caregivers to closely monitor their loved one for pain or discomfort because people with advanced dementia frequently have trouble speaking. Some examples of such symptoms include moaning or shouting, restlessness or an inability to fall asleep, grimacing, or sweating. It can also be a sign that you should contact a hospice or palliative care provider for assistance with pain management.

Hospice can offer a hospital bed or other equipment to raise the head if a person with end-stage dementia has problems sitting up without help.

Families may find it most difficult when a loved one with dementia loses the ability to swallow or eat. Because a person with dementia cannot comprehend the advantages of IV drips or feeding tubes, they frequently get extremely agitated and try to remove them, resulting in further discomfort and infection risk. Instead, concentrate on keeping the person at ease.

References

  1. How to know when a person with dementia is nearing the end of their life. Alzheimer’s Society . https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/help-dementia-care/recognising-when-someone-reaching-end-their-life. Accessed: 3rd August, 2023.
  2. Dying From Dementia With Late-Stage Symptoms. Very Well Health . https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-it-like-to-die-of-dementia-1132331. Published Online: 26th October, 2022. Accessed: 3rd August, 2023.
  3. Signs of Dying in the Elderly with Dementia. Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care. https://www.crossroadshospice.com/hospice-resources/end-of-life-signs/dementia/. Accessed: 3rd Aug, 2023.
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