By Eric Bush, MD, RPh, MBA | Hospice of the Chesapeake
According to some estimates, around 5.8 million people in the United States suffer from dementia-related diseases. An additional 5.6 million age 65 and older are at risk. This is what medical professionals call the Silver Tsunami. A growing elderly population living longer combined with the ability to diagnose dementia earlier is leading to a tremendous need for more and enhanced memory care services.
Hospice and palliative care nonprofits are working to get ahead of that wave by building up their palliative care programs also known as supportive care. The goal is to improve quality of life for both patient and family. Care is provided by a team of physicians, nurses, social workers and other specialists who work with the patient’s primary care physicians, the patient and the family to develop a plan of care.
We know dementia patients crave consistency. This not only applies to the daily routine and surroundings, but also to who is caring for them — the same family members, the same professional caregivers and the same medical team. We strive for a continuum of care where the provider who visits the patient and family in the beginning is the same in the end.
For someone who has been diagnosed with a disease like Alzheimer’s, the continuum of care starts from diagnosis. Both patient and family can benefit from interventions supportive care can provide, like symptom and medication management from a physician and guidance and resources from a social worker. Over time, getting the patient 10 minutes across town to a doctor’s appointment can take two hours just to prepare for the trip. With supportive care, the medical team can go to patient’s home or wherever they call home.
As the disease progresses, patients begin to have difficulties swallowing, which can lead to pneumonia and frequent hospitalizations. This would be a time to consider hospice, or end-of-life care. A supportive care patient can easily transition to hospice care when it is with the same provider or organization. With the continuum of care, you have a provider that starts out seeing the patient early in the diagnosis and helps them plan for the final days. Hospice organizations are even there after the patient has died to provide grief support for the family.
For a dementia patient and their family, the continuum of care can be an anchor in a sea of uncertainty. To learn more, visit www.hospicechesapeake.org.
Eric Bush, MD, RPh, MBA is Chief Medical Officer for Hospice of the Chesapeake and Chesapeake Supportive Care.
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