Patient Engagement

Hospice — The Best Way to Alleviate Loneliness for Middle-Stage Dementia Patients

In-home hospice care, which gives them ample opportunities to engage with family and friends in the comfort of their own homes, allows providers to give dementia patients the daily contact they deserve. 

A new study of more than 350,000 participants has confirmed earlier findings from smaller studies: loneliness increases the likelihood of dementia and hastens the onset of its symptoms.

Dementia patients need frequent social interaction to live out their final days with dignity. In-home hospice care, which gives them ample opportunities to engage with family and friends in the comfort of their own homes, is the best way for providers to give dementia patients the daily contact they deserve. 

Dementia, which affects 55 million people worldwide, is an illness that leads to cognitive deterioration and memory loss. While dementia looks different for each person, symptoms often follow a pattern of progression. The first stage begins gradually and involves forgetfulness, lapses in concentration and trouble planning. The middle stage is marked by more significant symptoms, like changes in personality, worsening memory and getting lost in familiar places. Late stage dementia involves the inability to perform daily activities, like eating, walking and talking. 

Steps can be taken, however, to slow the onset of worsening symptoms and make life more enjoyable for dementia patients. According to a recent report by the National Partnership for Healthcare and Hospice Innovation, “One of the best things you can do for the person living with dementia is to keep them mentally active.” This involves more than just routine mental exercises; it’s about integrating dementia patients into the fabric of daily family life. Engaging them in conversations, sharing meals and including them in family events facilitates mental stimulation. For those who can no longer care for pets, robotic companion pets can reduce loneliness and rekindle the feelings of care and intimacy they once felt for beloved dogs and cats. All these stimulating interactions are most effective when they occur organically at home, providing a familiar and comfortable environment compared to a hospital or center.

In addition to activities that promote mental activity and sociability, following predictable routines also helps people with dementia thrive. Activities like walking, gardening, exercising and eating can be put into a daily schedule in the home that they know best, minimizing the effects of forgetfulness. Treatment from hospice caregivers fits into this daily routine. 

Symptoms of dementia tend to get worse over time. “As the disease progresses,” notes the World Health Organization, “the need for help with personal care increases.” The transition from lower to higher levels of care happens more smoothly when a treatment plan is crafted before the most debilitating stages of illness. Avoiding a frantic search for care at the end of life allows both patients and caregivers to focus on what matters: spending precious time together. 

Hospice care in the middle and late stages of dementia has advantages for both caregivers and patients. Family members get a break from full-time caregiving, allowing them to focus their time on meaningful emotional connection and investment with their loved ones, beyond the demands of physical labor. The load of caregiving, especially in the middle to late stages of dementia, can be overwhelming, often requiring around-the-clock care. Rather than putting the pressure of full time care on family members alone, hospice care spreads responsibility to a team of trained professionals. 

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This shift not only provides caregivers with respite but also creates opportunities for quality time together, fostering deeper emotional bonds. The increased emphasis on shared experiences and emotional connection can play a vital role in attenuating the sense of loneliness experienced by dementia patients.

Many hospice care organizations also provide holistic care to patients and their families during this challenging time of transition. This care means that all family members are supported during their journey by nurses, nurse assistants, doctors, social workers, chaplains and counselors who are dedicated to working together with family members to plan and carry out in-home treatment. 

The new large-scale study confirms that to live with dignity dementia patients need companionship and social connectedness. As healthcare professionals, it’s imperative that we proactively address these needs, taking a comprehensive approach to healthcare that looks beyond the immediate illness and recognizes the profound impact of loneliness on dementia patients.

Photo: :shapecharge, Getty Images

Andrew Molosky is the President and Chief Executive Officer at Chapters Health System, one of the nation’s premier community-based healthcare delivery systems.

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