Dementia is a devastating disease that results in progressive deterioration of the brain and eventual lack of function.
Caring for a loved one with dementia is an emotional journey filled with ups and downs. Support and assistance for caregivers is critical throughout. Often times families do not seek out assistance or simply do not know where to turn. I recommend one supportive measure early on which is palliative care. I find in my work and in this patient population, that healthcare providers do not use or refer to palliative care as often as I feel they should be.
So what is palliative care and how can it be helpful in caring for those with Dementia?
Palliative care provides individualized and specialized care for those with serious or life limiting diseases such as dementia. The focus is on improving the quality of life for both the patient and their loved one's. Palliative care can be started at any time and can be done in conjunction with curative treatments. Health care providers will not stop caring for and working towards a cure (in those diseases in where this is possible) if one is in a palliative care program. This is often times a worry for patients and family members. A team of healthcare providers including physicians, social workers, nurses, and other specialized areas (music therapy, pet therapy, pastoral care, etc) will collaborate and work as a team to ensure that the best care and support is provided in an individualized manner. It is all about serving the patient needs and those of the family. It is a support system that can provide family and friends with that extra layer of comfort and resources that can make a true difference for all. Dementia is a journey and as I have been told many times by those effected by it...it is a journey best traveled with the support of others. Statistics even show clearly that those who are caring for loved ones with dementia have a significantly greater risk of illness and even early death, as compared to those who have supportive services in place. It is also critical in terms of grieving for family members to be given relief from the daily care tasks so that they can still have moments of joy with their loved one and emotionally begin to prepare for the final days. Losing a family member is never easy, especially for those who are effected by dementia. Each path is different, but similar in progression. Support and guidance can and will make a difference along the way and should be recommended for loved one's early on. Local support groups can also be of assistance throughout.
If you or a loved one is in need of palliative care services, please talk with a Geriatric Care Manager, a hospital social worker, or request a referral from your physician.
To find out more go to: GetPalliativeCare.org/providers which will provide you with a state-by-state list.
You can also obtain valuable information by visiting www.capitalcaring.org https://www.capitalcaring.org/service/palliative-care/