Identifying the Final Stages of Alzheimer’s
By Rick Law, Senior advocate and estate planning attorney at Law Elder Law in Chicagoland. Jo Huey, the owner of the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Institute, warns us that the symptoms that signify that a patient is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease can be as varied as the individuals and their personalities and may be affected by other unrelated health conditions. With that fact in mind, Jo notes that there have to be some guidelines to follow. According to Jo, only about 6 percent of people with Alzheimer’s (and related disorders) actually make it to the end stage of the disease. The most easily identifiable sign that someone is dying from Alzheimer’s and related disorders is when he or she can no longer swallow safely (without aspiration) and has chosen not to use a feeding tube (often a legal issue of its own). If an Alzheimer’s patient is not allowed to take oral nutrition or hydration safely, they are unlikely to survive for a long period of time. It is advisable, at the very least, to have a speech therapist make this determination. Jo says the second most common qualifier for hospice is when there is a significant weight loss even though the person is eating meals regularly. She notes that the majority of people with Alzheimer’s and related disorders actually die from infection. Common examples are
- Sepsis from undiagnosed urinary tract infection or other infection (abscessed tooth, etc.) that creates an infection in the blood and can’t be stopped if it has progressed too far; and
- Pneumonia, sometimes from aspiration or an illness or virus; because the clients cannot communicate their illness, it goes undetected until it has progressed too far.