What Are the Signs of End-Stage Dementia? How to Know When Dementia Patients Are Nearing Their End of Life
Dementia is a scary diagnosis to deal with for both patients and their loved ones. Often the unknowns leave families with endless questions. One of the biggest questions being:
“What are the signs of end-stage dementia?”
We have been with families as they handle their loved one’s battle with dementia, and we are here to help.
This guide was created to help you understand the symptoms of end stage dementia and what care options your loved one may have.
Table of Contents
5 Dementia Last-Stage Symptoms and Signs
Families often ask,
“What are the stages of dementia?”
Although the inconsistent presentation of symptoms can make it difficult to determine just how far along a dementia diagnosis is, there are some signs and symptoms to look for. Keep reading to learn more.
#1: Memory Issues
How a person’s memory changes as they enter the last stage of dementia can be a sign confirming the disease’s progression.
Short-term memory is most often affected, and your loved one may experience something called “time-shifting” where they believe they are in an earlier period of their life.
Questions about emotional periods in the past may be difficult to manage. They may not recall the passing of a loved one or insist on going on home when they are home. This phase of the end-stage of dementia and when the brain cannot retain new learning.
It is important to remember if you are a caregiver that inconsistent progression and times of lucidity are common, though these times will decrease as the disease progresses.
#2: Language Difficulties
When experiencing end-stage dementia, it isn’t uncommon for communication skills to change. Because dementia is a progressive brain disorder, the centers in the brain that control speech and communication are also affected.
This often results in the inability to:
- Focus on a conversation
- Express ideas and emotions
- Understand what is being said
- Hold a normal conversation — speech often becomes garbled and hard to understand
#3: Changes in Mood and Emotions
Having a brain disease that changes your perception of the world around you often causes dramatic changes in mood and emotion.
Everyone is different, and everyone exhibits different symptoms, meaning there is no definitive list of what to expect; however, we’re here to offer guidance about some of the most common end-stage dementia symptoms.
Patients who are experiencing dementia’s last stage symptoms may experience:
- Anger and frustration
- Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety
- Self-awareness that their faculties are lessening
If you think you are experiencing any signs of dementia and live alone, now would be the time to discuss moving in with a loved one or into an assisted living facility that best suits your needs.
If you are reading this and have a loved one who is already in an assisted living facility, transitioning from assisted living to memory care may be the option that works best for all.
#4: Behavioral Changes
One of the major signs of end-stage dementia are behavioral changes, like a person’s inability to respond to their environment. Additional signs of end-stage dementia behavioral changes include:
- The need to sleep more
- Having a decreased appetite
- The inability to identify and express physical discomfort or symptoms of illness
#5: Increased Physical Difficulties
Toward the end of the disease’s progression, there are common confirming signs that someone is entering one of the final stages of end-stage dementia. Some of these physical difficulties may include:
- They may move less and be bed bound
- Bladder and bowel incontinence becomes more common
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Physical care needs, such as assistance bathing and other personal care needs, increase dramatically at this point and caregiver support may be required
End-Stage Dementia Care Options
Around-the-clock care for in-home caregivers becomes nearly impossible as a patient begins to exhibit the last stages of dementia.
When you or a loved one reaches the end stages of dementia, it’s not uncommon for social support to diminish and the feeling of isolation to increase in this phase.
For caregivers, care may begin to feel like it’s consuming most, if not all, of their time. Although confused, your loved one can likely feel the same stressors.
Transitioning into facility-based care is one of the most difficult decisions a family can make, but it can also be the most beneficial for everyone involved.
At Senior Services of America, we understand how difficult this decision can be, which is why we are here to provide you with guidance. We provide quality end-of-life care, and comprehensive around the clock support at each of our memory-care facilities.
What Can Help Someone Through the End Stage of Dementia?
Although this is a difficult diagnosis for a family to face, there are concrete actions to take when you or your loved one is facing decline.
Offer Touch and Human Contact
Human contact and touch are the most basic of human needs — and in the end-stages of dementia, these interactions can be extremely beneficial.
Offering a hand to hold or even the caress of an arm or cheek can bring untold comfort.
There are scientific studies that have shown that touch can lessen both physical discomfort as well as emotional pain.
For example, this Stanford University study about touch found that touch reduces physical and emotional pain – “Interpersonal touch and social support can influence physical health, mental well-being and pain”.
Provide Physical Comfort and Care
Making the decision to use caregivers outside of the family, and the decision to use a facility’s care comes with a host of benefits.
The benefits of a senior care facility include:
- Physical safety
- Support for loved ones
- Medical supervision of acute and chronic health symptoms
- Care team coordination
Try to Meet Spiritual and Cultural Needs
By being versed in the traditions of your loved one’s cultural approach to end of life, caregivers can assist the patient in this final part of their illness.
At Senior Services America communities, our team members strive to understand your loved one’s wishes in reference to:
- Family culture
- Religious traditions
- Advance directives
- Pain management and comfort care
How Long Does the Final Stage of Dementia Last?
We wish we could give you a firm answer. The final stages of dementia can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.
The intensive end-of-life care required to mitigate the symptoms of end-stage dementia, when provided by professional care staff, can allow caregivers space and emotional energy to spend quality time with your loved one.
What Are Signs of the Dying Process for End-Stage Dementia Patients?
At the end of their illness, some of the signs that they are transitioning may include:
- Less communication
- Refusing to eat or drink
- Difficulty swallowing
- Inability to get out of bed
- Sleeping more
- Increased frailty
- Cold feet and hands
- Raspy breathing/rattle in the chest
- In and out of awareness of surroundings
It is not unusual for a loved one to be unaware of these symptoms. Medical professionals can help ensure that dementia patients are as physically comfortable as possible in the last days and weeks of their life.
Handling the emotional distress that sometimes comes when dealing with dementia may even involve assistance outside of a physician or their team. A clergy member, or other cultural spiritual leader may be able to provide support to both you, and your loved ones, as the end-stages continue.
2 Ways Healthcare Professionals Can Help With Final Dementia Symptoms
Aside from reaching out to a clergy or spiritual leader, there are specific ways that healthcare professionals can help during the final stages of dementia. This care typically involves two types:
- Palliative care
- End-of-life care
#1: Palliative Care
Palliative care is sometimes called supportive care.
Palliative care is a specialized form of care for people living with serious illnesses, including end-stage dementia.
The main focus of palliative care is to improve quality of life. While not replacing medical care, it offers services and supports which complement the care team. Symptom management, rather than curative measures are the focus.
Some of the features of palliative care to provide comfort include:
- Treating with medication to mitigate pain or distress
- Having culturally sensitive discussions with family and patient about the end of life and what to expect
- Supporting family members and loved ones
- Providing nutritional/hydration guidance and support
- And more
#2: End-of-Life Care
In addition to palliative care, sometimes patients enter a phase of hospice care, or end-of-life care. This is also considered comfort care and is the last phase in caring for a patient with end-stage dementia symptoms.
Coordination of the hospice plan happens with the involvement of family and caregivers. It may feel impossible for family members to understand when the moment arrives to ask for hospice care for their loved ones. Having an involved care team is vital at this stage.
Usually, hospice is activated when the primary physician has assessed the patient’s life expectancy as less than six months.
Some of the comfort measures provided in hospice are:
- Medicines and medical care to alleviate pain and discomfort
- Care that focuses more on comfort than treating any disease or complication
- End of life counseling and guidance appropriate with the patient’s remaining cognition
- Grief counseling for the family
Senior Services of America Is Here for All Stages of the Elder Years, From Independent Living to Memory Care
Whether your loved one is at the end-stages of dementia or you are a senior looking for a senior living community and preparing for the future, there is a Senior Services of America setting for you.
Our senior living facilities range from independent living communities where seniors are encouraged to live as independently as they can, to memory care facilities, Senior Services of America has a facility to best support you or your loved one.
Senior Services of America is ready to support you or your loved one’s unique needs.
Senior Services of America is ready to work as a team member in your loved one’s journey. Find your nearest community to see how we can assist you with navigating this important part of life.