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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Treating Dementia, but Overlooking Its Physical Toll


The continued focus on treatment to prolong life often means that pain relief is inadequate, and symptoms like confusion and anxiety are worsened.

A new study suggests that family members would be far less likely to subject their loved ones to such treatment if they had a better understanding of dementia as progressive, debilitating illness that ultimately shuts down the body after years of mental deterioration.

Dementia is often viewed as a disease of the mind, an illness that erases treasured memories but leaves the body intact.

The lack of understanding about the physical toll of dementia means that many patients near the end of life are subjected to aggressive treatments that would never be considered with another terminal illness. People with advanced dementia are often given dialysis and put on ventilators; they may even get preventive care that cannot possibly help them, like colonoscopies and drugs for osteoporosis or high cholesterol.

“You can go to an intensive-care unit in most places,” said Dr. Greg A. Sachs, chief of general internal medicine and geriatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, “and you’ll find people with dementia getting very aggressive treatment.”

Harvard researchers recently followed 323 residents of 22 nursing homes. All had end-stage dementia, meaning that they no longer recognized family members, could speak fewer than six words and were incontinent and bedbound. During the 18-month study period, more than half of the patients died.
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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The blog contains more than 2,255 articles with more than 272,100 links on the Internet. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.




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