My Brian’s eyes would play tricks with him when was still living at home in earlier stages of his Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Especially at night. The shadows cast from the moonlight out our window over Tampa Bay, which normally looked so peaceful, caused hallucinations and paranoia and led to many sleepless nights.
Dementia care is a delicate dance. In later stages – Brian’s experience in the nursing home today – it’s even more so. Those imaginary shadows he battled earlier are now manifesting both physically and metaphorically, shrouding the dementia journey for not only Brian, but myself and the professionals entrusted to his care.
Which calls us to consider the most compassionate end-stage dementia care strategies for caregivers. Difficult as these processes may be, I speak for all caregivers in that we LOVE our family members and friends who live with dementia. And LIVE is the operative word. They are LIVING with dementia, and we are lovingly chosen to assist that journey.
Compassionate End-Stage Dementia Care Requires Planning & Understanding
End-stage dementia marks a poignant chapter in which shadows grow longer and the light of recognition flickers. More than 1 million Americans today are in the final stage of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
Along this challenging journey, care partners often find themselves in uncharted territory, seeking comfort for their loved ones and solace for themselves. In this blog, we’ll explore compassionate end-stage dementia care strategies to illuminate the path and provide unwavering support during profound challenges.
Here are some end-stage dementia care strategies that work to:
- Facilitate daily functioning
- Compassionately address physical, emotional, social & spiritual needs
- Foster an environment for person-centered care
1. Gain a True Understanding End-Stage Dementia
It’s helpful to gain a true understanding of dementia as a degenerative condition. (Related reading: 11 Common Alzheimer’s & Dementia Behaviors.) The very nature of dementia is regression. Dementia is a thief that steals away memories and abilities, often in reverse chronological order, until there’s nothing left but an infant-like state of dependence.
End-stage dementia unfolds long after most memories and cognitive functions have dwindled. It’s likely been years since they’ve driven a car or prepared a meal. Your loved one may retain only fragments of cherished memories. Communication in end-stage dementia becomes a literal and figurative whisper of what it once was. Your loved one may say only a few words or phrases, if anything at all.
No one knows exactly “what’s there” in the final stages of dementia. Individuals who still have the ability to walk may appear to wander aimlessly. They may recognize no one, but a familiar face, photograph, artwork or song could arouse happy responses. Something’s happening. Neurons are firing. But care partners and fellow loved ones shouldn’t expect any long-term improvements.
2. Embrace Non-Verbal Communication
The next logical step is to address communication. In late-stage dementia, your loved one’s non-verbal cues often take center stage. As noted above, their capacity for speech will be severely diminished. Approaching death, they may not speak at all.
How do you gauge their needs if they’re hungry, in pain, hot or cold, anxious, etc.? Recently in the nursing home, my Brian often has taken to emotional outbursts and apparent “theatrics” when he’s simply communicating that he’s in pain. Even experienced medical professionals mistakenly attribute negative behavior to dementia psychosis – often errantly prescribing powerful medications that carry worse side effects – when your loved one actually needs a blanket or to be toileted.
A gentle touch, a reassuring smile, or the warmth of a hug can transcend the barriers of language, offering comfort and connection. In the language of silence, our hearts speak the loudest.
3. Create a Soothing Environment
Crafting a serene and familiar space is paramount among end-stage dementia care strategies for caregivers. Soft lighting, familiar scents and cherished music can subconsciously stir feelings of safety and security. Individuals with late-stage dementia also appreciate a sense of continuity, which provides calm clarity amidst the encroaching shadows.
Dementia’s nature is confusion. Even family and friends, while friendly faces, can be complete strangers. Imagine knowing no one, even if you’ve known them for years. Imagine every room and hallway being an unfamiliar maze.
But your loved one’s bedroom – and other rooms in which they spend most of their time – can be designed and organized for their comfort. In the sanctuary of a familiar room, memories find refuge.
4. Personalized Care Plans
We always say, “If you know one person with dementia, you know ONE person with dementia.” What works for one, is not guaranteed to work for another. Tailoring care plans to individual preferences ensures dignity and respect. Just as importantly, a well-factored life-care plan includes care measures, treatment preferences, social/emotional/spiritual needs and more.
Understanding their unique history, preferences and rituals helps create moments of joy and a sense of purpose, even at the height of cognitive decline. In personalization, we discover the poetry of our loved ones’ essence.
5. Incorporate Sensory Stimulation
Soft textures, soothing sounds and fragrant aromas evoke memories and sensations, offering a bridge to a world slipping away.
As with art and music, sensory stimulation for any stage of dementia care promotes brain function. In the end, that won’t result in any significant functional improvement, but comfort itself is worth its weight in gold. In the tapestry of senses, we weave threads of connection.
6. Foster Connection Through Reminiscence
Storytelling is a vessel through time. Reminiscing about shared experiences, even if words falter, fosters a sense of identity and belonging.
In the final stage of dementia, your loved one won’t be an active participant in discussions. But discussing fond memories and offering kind words is a peaceful experience. In the echoes of shared stories, we find threads that bind us.
(Helpful hint: Such activities are particularly beneficial for the mental and emotional well-being of caregivers themselves.)
7. Care for the Caregiver
That’s a great spot to segue into our final point: caregiver self-care. The weight of end-stage dementia care is immense. Care partners must prioritize self-care, seeking support from friends, family or support groups to navigate the emotional toll of this profound journey. Family and friends on the caregiving journey must be able to lean on each other for support.
In self-care, we find strength to be the pillars of support.
Caregiver Tips: Strategies for Late-Stage Dementia Care
Dementia care is a journey of love, resilience, and unwavering compassion. We hope these end-stage dementia care strategies for caregivers help make sense of the difficult death transition. It’s important to keep in mind, dementia is more than memory loss.
As care partners, we must illuminate the shadows, providing comfort for our loved ones in the face of advanced dementia. In each tender moment, we discover that even as the mind dims, the spirit persists, and our shared humanity transcends the boundaries of time and memory.
If you need help, Caregiver Support and Resources, LLC has over 25 years of experience with all aspects of life-care planning including dementia care. We’re happy to provide referrals and guide the process in a caring and compassionate way.