Palliative Care Improves Quality of Life for Alzheimer’s Patients

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is currently rated as the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. However, it is believed by many that it may be moving up to being the 3rd leading cause right behind heart disease and cancer. Alzheimer’s disease destroys the nerve connections to the brain and is the most common cause of dementia in older adults. Dementia causes people to have difficulty with memory, judgment, and reasoning which can cause a person to not recognize people or things as well as not know what a certain thing is, and more.

What is Palliative Care?

An estimated 40 million people a year need palliative care. Palliative care is care given to improve the quality of life for patients and their families who have a serious or life-threatening disease, like cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. This care is to help treat the patient as a whole and not just their disease. This form of care helps treat the symptoms and side effects of the disease as much as possible, and as early as possible after they have been diagnosed. You can receive palliative care at any age and at any stage of your Illness; it can help the patient with the discomfort and help relieve the stress of their symptoms, whether they be physical or psychological. Palliative care can be used with treatment to fight the disease if it is treatable.

Palliative care teams include your doctor, specialty trained nurses who can provide direct care to the patient and provide the patient and their family with information and education on their disease and a pharmacist who will work with your doctor to determine the best medicine to help you and the team and can even include social workers as well. You can receive palliative care at a hospital, outpatient clinic, or in the comfort of your home.

Palliative care can help a patient by reducing hospitalization, relieving pain, controlling their symptoms, coordinating care between health care professionals, and providing information about advanced directives. It can help some of the symptoms like depression, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. Not only does it help patients, but it also helps their family members understand dementia, what triggers it, and how it can affect behavior. Palliative care can help patients manage a daily routine by providing physical and memory therapy as well as managing symptoms from other ongoing issues that may interfere with daily tasks.

What are the Major Issues with Palliative Care?

  • Most medical insurance plans do not cover palliative care
  • Training for palliative care for healthcare professionals is often limited or non-existent
  • Access to opioid pain relief is not what it should be and does not meet the criteria for access to medicines that can help these sick people
  • Lack of knowledge as to what exactly palliative care is and how it can help a loved one
  • Some cultural or social beliefs could affect how people see palliative care and what it can do for them
  • Some people don’t understand that palliative care is not just for people with cancer, but also for other life-threatening diseases; it can help no matter how far along you are in your diagnosis
  • There is confusion about how opioids can help with palliative care for people with Alzheimer’s

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How do You Quality for Palliative Care?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions, palliative care is for you:

  1. Have you been diagnosed with a serious or chronic illness?
  2. Does your illness require ongoing care or pain management?
  3. Do you have pain that cannot be controlled?
  4. Are you able to emotionally handle your illness?
  5. Do you have advanced care planning in place to help you?

What is the Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice Care?

While hospice care is usually for people who have 6 months or less to live, palliative care can also be for people who possibly still have a few years to live. Palliative care can start at any time during an illness but it is usually started when you are diagnosed. Palliative care can be comprised of curative treatment to help with your disease, while hospice care is aimed at solely helping with your symptoms. Ultimately both hospice and palliative care make you feel better and help relieve your symptoms so you are comfortable in your current situation.

End of Life Care for Dementia

As a caregiver, you will want to know all the information you can when it comes to end-of-life care for your loved one. Below are some questions you could ask your loved one’s healthcare team:

  • Who can help me with end-of-life care for my loved one living with dementia?
  • How will your suggested treatment paths affect their quality of life?
  • What are my options if I can no longer manage the care of my loved one at home?
  • How can I best decide when a visit to the doctor or hospital is necessary?
  • Should I consider hospice at home, and if so, does the hospice team have experience working with patients living with dementia?

Sings of the final stages of dementia include some of the following:

  • Being unable to move around on one’s own
  • Being unable to speak or make oneself understood
  • Eating problems such as difficulty swallowing

As dementia progresses, loved ones may find it harder to provide emotional or spiritual comfort to someone with severe memory loss. If your loved one is not already in palliative care or hospice care, this may be a time to consider looking into this helpful option for you and your loved one.



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