Dementia currently affects nearly 50 million people worldwide. On average, people who have been diagnosed with dementia live for approximately 10 years after their initial diagnosis.
If you have a parent or loved one who’s been diagnosed with dementia, the last thing you probably want to think about is what will happen as the disease progressed.
In reality, though, it’s important to prepare yourself for what late-stage dementia looks like. Read on to learn about some of the signs, along with tips on how to manage late-stage dementia effectively.
What to Expect During Late-Stage Dementia
People who are going through late-stage dementia typically experience the following symptoms:
- Difficulty eating and swallowing
- Needing assistance walking
- Eventually being unable to walk
- Difficulty communicating
- Needing full-time personal care help (especially personal hygiene)
- Being vulnerable to infections like pneumonia
As a caregiver, your role will change quite a bit as your parent or loved one’s condition progresses. Some responsibilities you may need to prepare for include:
- Preserving dignity and quality of life
- Finding new ways to connect and communicate as speech ability declines
- Seeking out late-stage care options if you need additional assistance
Even if you are a full-time caregiver, your parent or loved one’s needs might extend beyond what you can manage on your own. You may need to look into assisted living or hospice care.
It’s important to have a discussion about these types of care shortly after your parent or loved one receives their diagnosis. Decisions need to be made while they still have the capacity to make decisions and share their wishes about the kind of life-sustaining treatment they want.
Tips for Managing Late-Stage Dementia
While caring for a loved one with late-stage dementia can be challenging, there are lots of things you can do to provide them with adequate care and ensure they get everything they need to be as comfortable as possible.
Listed below are some specific things you can do to manage late-stage dementia:
One of the most important tasks you can perform while caring for someone with late-stage dementia is to monitor their eating.
Individuals who are experiencing late-stage dementia symptoms may forget to eat or may lose their appetite altogether.
Some things you can do to ensure they eat enough include:
- Make sure they’re eating in a comfortable, upright position
- Adapt foods so they’re easy to chew and swallow (thicken liquids like water, juice, and soup)
- Feed them a healthy diet comprised of nutrient-dense foods (fruit, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, lean meat, etc.)
- Encourage self-feeding (use cues like placing their hand on the spoon or serving finger foods)
- Encourage fluid consumption to prevent dehydration
Remember to monitor your loved one’s weight to make sure they’re not losing too much weight. This can be a sign of insufficient nutrition, illness, or medication side effects.
Bowel and Bladder Function
Difficulty controlling their bowels and bladder is common among people with late-stage dementia. They may need to be walked to the restroom, and they may also need to be guided through the process of using the restroom.
Some other steps you can take to help your loved one maintain their bowel and bladder function include:
- Set and stick to a toileting schedule
- Limit liquid consumption a few hours before bedtime
- Use absorbent protective products like disposable briefs and bed pads
Remember to keep track of your loved one’s bowel movements, too. If they go three days or more without a bowel movement, they may be constipated. In these instances, they might require natural laxatives or prescriptions from a doctor.
Skin and Body Care
Adults going through late-stage dementia are likely to experience a variety of skin and body issues, including pressure sores, skin breakdown, and joint freezing.
Some steps you can take to keep your loved one’s skin healthy include:
- Change their position every couple of hours to relieve pressure, improve circulation, and prevent pressure sores
- Keep their skin clean and dry (use gentle motions and a mild soap when washing their skin)
- Check their skin daily for breakdowns, sores, or rashes
- Protect bony areas (elbows, hips, heels, etc.) with pillows
- Encourage them to do range-of-motion exercises to prevent freezing joints
You’ll also need to make sure you lift them properly to avoid damaging their skin or putting too much pressure on them.
People with late-stage dementia are more prone than others to infections like pneumonia.
It’s important to keep things clean in order to prevent your loved one from getting sick. Some specific things you can do include:
- Keep the teeth and mouth clean — brush regularly, clean dentures nightly, and clean the tongue and gums with a moistened gauze pad or soft toothbrush
- Treat cuts and scrapes with antibiotic ointment immediately
- Make sure they get a flu shot every year
- Make sure they get a pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination every five years
Flu shots and pneumonia vaccinations are especially important for keeping these serious, potentially life-threatening infections at bay.
Look for Signs of Illness or Pain
Communication typically becomes very difficult during the late stages of dementia. As a result, it can be hard to tell if a loved one is experiencing pain or illness.
To ensure they get the care they need as quickly as possible, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs of pain and illness. Some signs to look for include:
- Pale or flushed skin
- Dry, pale gums
- Mouth sores
- Nonverbal signs of pain (such as wincing)
Remember to be alert to behavior changes, too. Look for signs of agitation, trembling, or sleep problems. Changes in mood can also be a sign that something is wrong.
Do You Need Late-Stage Dementia Care?
As you can see, caring for a parent or loved one with late-stage dementia can be quite challenging. If you need additional help caring for your loved one, you may want to consider long-term dementia care.
At Seasons Memory Care, we offer a state-of-the-art, customized approach to senior care in the Tampa area.
Contact us at today to learn about our Alzheimer’s and dementia programs.