According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 50 million people are living worldwide with dementia. This is projected to reach 82 million by 2030 and nearly double that by 2050. In the US, approximately 5.7 million have dementia, and nearly 70% of those cases are Alzheimer's disease. These numbers are higher than what the World Health Organization projected in 2015, which they found were higher than the original estimates reported in 2009. In other words, the numbers of people who have dementia are growing, and the rate at which they are suffering is growing too.
Coping With Late-Stage Dementia
In the later stages of Alzheimer's disease, caregiving becomes much more difficult. While it affects everyone differently, becoming informed in some of the ways the later stages affect your loved one will help you to prepare.
Dementia is a condition of the brain that ultimately affects every area of a person's life. In the latter stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the immune system is weaker, which means your loved one may catch more colds and infections. Sleep patterns are often disturbed, and many have difficulty swallowing, using the toilet and walking. The brain dysfunction causes personality changes which may present as hoarding, aggression, anxiety or irritability. A lack of memory results in repetitive questions and becoming socially withdrawn. One of the most common symptoms is increasing difficulty with communication.
Communicating With Your Loved One In Late-stage Dementia
While difficult for you, it's important to remember that many who experience late-stage dementia are not able to understand much of what is said to them and may be less likely to respond verbally. In some cases, you might find your loved one repeats the same phrase or the same sound as it appears to be comforting. Some will start speaking, but the words don't make sense. In this case, it's important to identify the feeling your loved one is trying to communicate and respond to this.
For example, if your loved one is smiling and chatting, you must respond to them in the same way. You're communicating and responding with feelings rather than information. If your loved one is unable to communicate with words, they'll still be able to use behavior, facial expressions and gestures to communicate their needs. In the later stages of dementia, it is important to support your loved one as much as possible. This may mean becoming an astute observer to their body language and facial expressions and finding ways to engage.
How Can You Help Someone In Late-stage Dementia?
Consider using these tips to help your loved one remain calm and content during these difficult days:
- Approach a loved one with dignity. Don't talk about them in their presence as if they are not there.
- Be a careful observer of your loved one's behavior. You'll likely begin to notice cues when your family member is becoming agitated or anxious. In this case, they may respond well or poorly to interventions. It's important to observe their reactions and recognize that they may respond differently each time.
- Use music to help your loved one communicate. The memory of music and song lyrics are in a different part of the brain than speech and understanding. Your loved one may respond to music from their past and may even be able to sing an old familiar song.
- Consider pet therapy since those in late-stage dementia often take great joy from dogs and cats who appear to be able to communicate at a level that we cannot.
- Take plenty of time, and don't rush your family member. The disease has affected their brain in ways we are only beginning to understand and may cause your loved one to react much more slowly.
- Even if you don't think your loved one understands what you're saying to them, continue to speak clearly and communicate. They may not fully understand your words but may understand the feelings and love that is communicated when you talk to them.
When You’re Ready for In-Home Care, We Are Ready to Help
Taking care of a loved one with dementia may feel overwhelming. There will be times you need time away to relax and recharge. At Harmony, our professional in-home care providers can help you get to rest, knowing your loved one is safe. Call us today!