We all associate dementia with the loss of memory. However, loss of memory is only part of it. During the last stages of dementia, there are many complications and, finally, death. There are many frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding how dementia kills you. We have selected the most important ones and provided answers below.
How Does Dementia Lead to Death?
Dementia is a progressive disorder that causes significant damage to the brain. The brain controls vital functions. This includes breathing, eating, walking, communicating, and going to the bathroom. Brain Injury thus results in complications such as falls, infections, malnutrition, and dehydration. These complications can lead to death.
How Can We Reduce the Risk of Death Due to Dementia?
Unfortunately, dementia is a disorder for which there is no cure. However, there are ways to cut the risk of death due to dementia. This can be done by managing the complications which arise due to the disorder. It is equally important to take preventative steps to minimize potential complications.
Below we have listed the most common complications which occur secondary to dementia as well as tips to prevent them:
Accidents may occur as those with dementia often lack spatial awareness and stability. They forget their limitations, leading to falls and even fatal accidents.
Ways to prevent falls and accidents:
- Ensure adequate lighting.
- Declutter and remove any items which may cause falls
- Use non-slip shoes with velcro fasteners.
2. Malnutrition and dehydration
Simple activities such as buying groceries may become a challenge. This is due to increased forgetfulness and loss of mobility. In the late stages of dementia, you may be unable to swallow food and fluids. All these factors will lead to an increased risk for malnutrition and dehydration.
Tips to avoid dehydration and malnutrition:
- Encourage drinking water throughout the day.
- Keep their favorite foods within reach.
- Create a calm environment when they eat.
In more advanced stages of dementia, patients may find it challenging to communicate. They may be unable to verbalize that they are feeling ill. Treatment is thus often delayed. Therefore, simple colds or urinary tract infections may progress into something more serious. The most common infections include pneumonia as well as urinary tract infections.
Secondary to the brain’s damage, the muscles responsible for swallowing are weak. For this reason, the food and liquids end up in the lungs, which leads to pneumonia. When pneumonia is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body, resulting in sepsis.
Tips to prevent pneumonia:
- Seat the person upright when eating or drinking.
- Maintain good oral hygiene.
- Cut the food into small pieces.
- Select foods that are easy to chew and swallow.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Dementia patients often have poor hygiene and are incontinent. They may have urinary catheters or be unable to empty the bladder. These are all risk factors for UTIs.
Tips to prevent UTIs:
- Use cranberry supplements.
- Use probiotics.
- Keep hydrated to ensure frequent urination. This flushes bacteria from the bladder.
- Avoid incidences of incontinence.
4. Skin Ulcers
As dementia progresses, a lack of mobility, poor hygiene, and incontinence results in skin ulcers. These skin ulcers may become infected, lead to sepsis, and eventually death. It is thus important to attend to any pressure sores and optimize mobility.
Patients may suffer from other diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and others. Dementia patients cannot often manage their conditions. They may forget to take their medicines or overdose. Patients need to be monitored appropriately.
How Long Is the Life Expectancy of a Person with Dementia?
The rate and pattern of deterioration of dementia are different for each person. There is no standard time till it leads to death. On average it varies between 2-20 years. This depends on the age, severity at the time of diagnosis, sex, general health, and type of dementia.
What are the 7 Stages of Dementia?
Dementia is classified into seven stages. The stages are listed below:
Stage 1: Normal behavior
There are many years where changes in the brain may occur without any signs and symptoms. This is stage 1.
Stage 2: Forgetfulness (Very mild cognitive decline)
During this stage, it is quite normal to forget a name or forget why you went to the kitchen. This does not confirm that the person has dementia.
Stage 3: Mild cognitive decline
At this point, there is short-term memory loss. This includes forgetting or losing things more often. You may find yourself having difficulty focusing or working. This stage may last 7 years.
Stage 4: Moderate decline
The memory lapses may become frequent or disrupt daily activities. You may have a general lack of interest and avoid social events. Often you might be unable to recall where you are, the current date, or time. This stage may last up to two years.
Stage 5: Moderately severe decline
Daily tasks such as getting dressed may require assistance. You forget personal details such as your address. However, you recall memories from years ago. During this stage, you will still be able to recognize your family members. This stage lasts around a year and a half.
Stage 6: Severe decline
You may become incontinent and need help to feed and bathe yourself. There will usually be changes in your personality. You may express anger and aggression toward both strangers and loved ones. This stage may last about two and a half years.
Stage 7: Very severe decline
Before reaching this stage, patients often die. This is often due to a deterioration in their health. They will require 24-hour care at this stage. They have often lost the ability to walk or communicate entirely.
These stages are essential to define. It enables caregivers to identify where their loved one is in their disease progression. Once you know what signs to look for, you can identify their stage and determine the type of care they need.
At What Point do Dementia Patients Need 24-Hour Care?
As dementia progresses, the person affected will need more intensive care, especially during the end stages of dementia. When care is required around the clock to remain healthy and safe, or you are unable to provide this care without affecting your health, you should consider options for 24-hour care.
Below are some important questions that you may ask yourself when deciding whether your loved one requires 24-hour care:
- Do they have frequent accidents or falls?
- Are they often disorientated to place, date, or time?
- Are they unable to eat or drink unassisted?
- Do they wander off from home and get lost and confused?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, 24-hour care should be a consideration.
It is vital to consider what is in the best interest of the person. There are many different options available. You may consider a live-in caregiver or a facility. Options include Assisted Living or Memory Care. It is important to find the option which is right for everyone concerned.
Can Dementia Get Worse Suddenly?
Most forms of dementia develop over several years. However, each person is different. Your age, genetics, environmental factors, and comorbidities could increase the rate of progression. There are also specific types of dementia that may get worse suddenly. They are known as rapidly progressive dementias (RPDs).
Does Dementia Run in Families?
The most common forms of dementia are rarely hereditary. Dementia is passed down to children and grandchildren, where there is a strong genetic component. When an ApoE4 gene is present this risk is increased. Frontoparietal dementia, young-onset familial Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Familial Prion disease have a strong genetic link.
Can Dementia be Prevented?
Presently there is no definite way to prevent dementia. However, it is possible to decrease the risk through exercising, eating healthy, remaining socially active, keeping your mind busy, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep. There are also vitamins and medicines which may delay the progression of the disease.
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Top 3 Points
- Dementia causes significant damage to the brain that results in falls, infections, malnutrition, and dehydration — which can then lead to death.
- Although dementia has no cure, managing complications and taking preventive steps can help lower the risk of death due to this disorder.
- Dementia has 7 stages. Knowing which stage your loved one is in is important to determine the type of care they need.
So, now you know how dementia kills you. During the last stages of dementia, death occurs due to a myriad of complications.
Over the past twenty years, the number of deaths due to dementia in the US has doubled. This is a significant increase. Dementia is a serious illness. Appropriate precautions need to be put in place to ensure the health and safety of those living with dementia. We should all do our best to create better awareness on this subject.