Symptoms & Strategies for Late Stage
The end stages of Alzheimer's can be extremely difficult for any caregiver. If your loved one is not already, this is probably the time to get her into 24-hour care. One person cannot do everything alone. You will need a significant amount of help to continue to care for your loved one. The list below gives an idea of what the end of life, late-stage symptoms look like.
- Loss of the ability to speak. Your loved one will be unable to process any new information, and by this point will not have the ability to speak. Her brain can no longer process that sort of data. However, her emotions are alive and well, so she will still respond to dignity and compassion.
- Inability to toilet. Mobility will be all but gone at this point, so toileting is pretty much reduced to the use of incontinence products. This may be one of the caregiving duties that you decide to relinquish to professional care, wherever your loved one is spending her final days.
- Swallowing issues. Due to the loss of general motor skills, most people who reach the end stage of this disease have trouble swallowing or can no longer swallow. Follow your loved one's healthcare power of attorney to decide whether she would want a feeding tube or other life-sustaining treatment. If she doesn't have a power of attorney, use your best judgment in how she lived her life to help you decide what to do. Talk to your elder law attorney if you're at a loss for how to go about with decision-making at this point.
- Discomfort. You can help your loved one feel less discomfort through the end-stage and dying process in several ways. If she has poor circulation, give her a gentle massage with lotion on her arms and legs. Watch for signs of skin irritation or bed sores, and keep skin clean so there's no skin breakdown. If your loved one is in pain, which you will have to recognize through subtle clues since she can no longer communicate with you, talk to your doctor about what you can do to alleviate some of the pain.
Don't forget, however, that your loved one's ability to communicate through emotions is still very much alive. She can feel loved, cared for, special, needed, and important. It's up to you to give her a sense of peace. You can still read to her, stroke her hair or hold her hand, tell her stories about your kids or your own childhood. While words may fade away, within this disease, the ability to love never does.