The number of Australians living with dementia is growing — and growing fast. An estimated 353,000 of all ages have dementia in 2016. This number is expected to increase to 400,000 in less than five years.

A question posed by a number of people in the community and one we get asked often, “why do people die from dementia?”. Many experts maintain that it is not always the disease per se that causes the demise of the patient, but the effects and co-morbidities of it. To better understand the reasons why we have detailed a few of the more common reasons.

What are some of the complications associated with the decline or pending death of someone with dementia?

When dementia progresses into late stages of the disease there can be a:

  • Decline in mobility and ability to walk – maybe confined to bed

People suffering from dementia can become bedridden.

  • Higher risk of developing an infection

Being continuously confined to bed may lead to bedsore that can advance to sepsis infection. Such infection occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream through broken skin. This may ultimately bring about organ failure.

  • Difficulties swallowing food or fluid

As discussed in alzheimersreadingroom.com, one of the side effects of this progressive, terminal illness as it progresses through the 7 Stages of the Disease is the difficulty in swallowing food; as a result, food or fluid ingested can be inhaled into the lungs causing pneumonia, which sets off infection in the lungs or airways.

  • Difficulties communicating which makes communicating the above issues more difficult about their own health

Without a medical breakthrough, the number of people with dementia is expected to be almost 900,000 by 2050.

What can we do to support people with the disease to live quality years?

Whilst there are no established cures or treatments to stop the disease progression there are both non-pharmacological (non-medication) and pharmacological (medication) approaches to making living with the disease easier.

Medications currently available however in some people can manage symptoms or slow the ability to think and decline in memory for a period of time, known as mematine and cholinesterase inhibitors. For those that have secondary symptoms like sleep disturbances, anxiety and depression other medications may have some effect. Keep in mind however, what works for one person may not work for everyone.
All medications have potential side effects, therefore weighing up the pro’s and the con’s is important to discuss with your doctor before commencing any medications. This is further complicated by the interaction between any new medications and existing medications for other conditions, if you start to notice changes you should report this to your doctor.

In some instance where clinically indicated there is a place for medication therapy to assist people with the symptoms of dementia, under the guidance of a General Practitioner or Geriatrician. Having said that non-medication therapies have shown to be just as effective for some people. For example, staying active, modifications to the environment, support to manage stress, remaining socially engaged, eating a balanced diet (eg. that includes vegetables and fruits, alternate sources of protein like beans and nuts, and avoidance of saturated oil) may help slow the disease progression. Education and practical support for people with dementia and in particular their carers as the disease progresses is a key part of providing holistic care. As it allows the carer to take on a self-management approach, allowing the individual/carer to remain in control of the decisions about their loved ones care, and by equipping them with the adequate knowledge and resources, it can increase ones overall confidence and hopefully continue in their caring role for longer.

As hard as it maybe at times, you’re not alone and there are people and organisations available and ready to provide support. It’s a matter of finding the right one for you in your area.

If you need help for yourself or the person you care for contact:

Carers Australia

Alzheimer’s Australia

Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Services

Dementia: Letting Go at the End of the Disease


Listen to strategies for family carers or health professionals on “Letting Go”, Pines Education Institute of Southwest Florida

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