doctor explaining diagnosis to his female patient

Understanding Palliative Care for Dementia

As you age, your health care needs often become more complex. You may make every effort to remain active, eat healthy and follow the advice of your medical care team, but there can still be bumps in the road. For seniors with serious or chronic health conditions, it is important to understand the options for support. Caregivers and patients can receive help through senior care communities, palliative care programs, hospice programs and other community resources. In order to choose the right options for you and your family, first you must understand the difference in types of care.

Palliative Care Versus Hospice Care

Hospice care and palliative care programs are both designed to provide comfort and support to patients and their families. While both programs are for patients with serious diagnoses, they do serve separate purposes. So, what is the difference between palliative care versus hospice care?

Hospice care is end-of-life care reserved for patients with a life expectancy of six months or less. A hospice program is completely focused on lessening the severity of the symptoms of the illness and supporting the spiritual and emotional health of the patient and family. Hospice care replaces any curative efforts or life-prolonging treatments a patient may receive in a hospital setting. Members of the hospice care team may also help the patient and family in making end-of-life decisions

Palliative care focuses on improving the well-being of patients with serious and/or chronic illnesses. These programs support patients and their families to enhance quality of life. Palliative care programs may include life-prolonging treatments.

What is Palliative Care?

Many health care organizations – including hospitals, long-term care facilities and cancer centers – have palliative care programs. There are also some organizations that specialize in palliative care services. Palliative care is an umbrella term that may be offered by a care team, including individuals such as physicians and physician assistants, nurses, chaplains, social workers, massage therapists and psychologists.

Palliative care is not designed to help cure a patient; it focuses on helping patients with serious illnesses to feel better and enjoy their lives more fully. Efforts are made to treat and prevent symptoms of the illnesses and side effects of the disease, while also treating social, practical, emotional and spiritual issues that may arise for a patient and/or family members while dealing with a serious illness. Patients in palliative care continue to see their primary care physician and receive treatment for their disease. Common illnesses for patients in palliative care include:

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney failure
  • ALS
  • Dementia
  • Lung diseases
  • Cancer
  • Kidney failure

When exploring options for palliative care, many questions come to mind. Here are answers to the most common questions about the palliative care process:

  • Does Medicare cover palliative care?

Hospice care and palliative care are both services that many Medicare beneficiaries may need in their lifetime. Medicare beneficiaries who choose to participate in palliative care are covered under Medicare Advantage and original Medicare. Additionally, original Medicare and Medicare Advantage both cover palliative care with hospice care, when a physician determines it is medically necessary.

  • How long can you be in palliative care?

A patient’s life expectancy is not a factor in utilizing palliative care, so there is no set requirement or limitation for how long you can be in the program. The only requirement is that the patient must be diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, but must not yet be eligible for hospice care.

What is Palliative Care for Dementia?

As a life-limiting and incurable disease, dementia causes a progressive deterioration of the patient’s cognitive abilities, as well as functional decline that can interfere with daily activities. While dementia is a common illness among palliative care patients, the symptoms of this specific disease do impact the way palliative care can be delivered. When providing palliative care for dementia, palliative care teams help all those involved to understand how treatments may improve the quality of the patient’s life even though there is no way to cure the disease. Dementia-focused palliative care may include:

  • Using behavior-based pain assessments as part of pain management
  • Utilizing regularly scheduled orders for pain medication (rather than as needed)
  • Providing food in small, easy to manage amounts throughout the day and evening
  • Remaining flexible with daily schedules and routines
  • Balancing participation in stimulating activities with rest

Recognizing Your Needs

At St. Paul’s Senior Community, we understand that care requirements vary from patient to patient. That’s why we’ve designed a community that supports all lifestyles, health conditions and activity levels. We provide assisted living, skilled nursing, memory care, independent living and rehabilitation care all on one campus to ensure our residents can experience the best care at every turn.

Contact us today to learn more about how our services can best meet your needs.