What you need to know about late-stage dementia

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Dementia is a progressive condition that affects millions of people worldwide, deteriorating cognitive function over time.

In its late stages, dementia profoundly impacts a person’s ability to manage daily life, requiring comprehensive care and understanding.

This article provides insights into the signs of late-stage dementia, backed by research, and explained in a way that’s accessible to everyone.

As dementia progresses to its later stages, the symptoms become more severe. The person with dementia experiences significant declines in mental abilities and physical functions, requiring more help from caregivers.

Loss of Communication Skills
One of the most noticeable signs of late-stage dementia is a significant decline in communication skills. People with late-stage dementia might struggle to form coherent sentences or find the right words.

They often revert to repeating phrases or words, and eventually, might stop speaking altogether. Research indicates that this decline is due to the ongoing deterioration of brain cells that affects language processing and speech.

Physical Decline
Physical abilities also worsen during the late stages of dementia. The person may become increasingly immobile, eventually needing a wheelchair or becoming bedridden. This loss of mobility increases the risk of pressure sores, infections, and muscle atrophy.

Studies have shown that physical therapy can help maintain mobility and comfort for as long as possible, though it cannot reverse this decline.

Increased Dependency for Daily Activities
As cognitive abilities further decline, individuals with late-stage dementia require help with nearly all daily activities. This includes basic personal care such as eating, dressing, and toileting.

They might lose the ability to chew and swallow, which can lead to nutritional concerns and require adjustments in how they are fed, such as switching to softer foods or liquids.

Behavior Changes and Psychological Symptoms
Behavioral and psychological symptoms are common in all stages of dementia but can be particularly challenging in the later stages. These symptoms include agitation, aggression, sleep disturbances, and even hallucinations or delusions.

Research suggests that these symptoms result from a combination of frustration, confusion, changes in the brain, and the inability to communicate discomfort or needs.

Sensitivity to Infections
People with late-stage dementia are particularly susceptible to infections, especially pneumonia and urinary tract infections.

Due to reduced mobility and difficulty swallowing, they are at a higher risk of aspiration (food or liquids entering the lungs), which can lead to pneumonia. Proper care and regular medical check-ups are crucial to manage and prevent infections.

Changes in Reflexes and Basic Physical Responses
In the final stages, reflexes may become abnormal, and physical responses can change. This might include abnormal sucking or grasping reflexes and difficulty controlling body temperature. Seizures may also occur, though they are less common.

End-of-Life Considerations
As difficult as it may be to think about, understanding and preparing for end-of-life care is essential in late-stage dementia.

This includes making decisions about palliative care, which focuses on comfort, managing pain and other symptoms, and supporting the family emotionally.

It’s important to have discussions with healthcare providers and family members about care preferences and legal and medical directives well before they are needed.

Recognizing the signs of late-stage dementia helps caregivers and family members prepare for the level of care required. While this stage is challenging, understanding and compassion from caregivers can make a significant difference in the comfort and dignity of the person’s final years.

Remember, every individual’s experience with dementia is unique, and symptoms can vary widely. Therefore, maintaining close communication with healthcare providers is crucial to managing the disease effectively.

If you care about brain health ,please read studies about Vitamin B9 deficiency linked to higher dementia risk, and cranberries could help boost memory.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about heartburn drugs that could increase risk of dementia, and results showing this MIND diet may protect your cognitive function, prevent dementia.

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