How Memory Loss Complicates End-of-Life Care

By: Amanda Winstead

Conditions like dementia are frightening and isolating for all parties involved. There will be times when you feel completely lost as to how to provide the right kind of care to your loved one if they don’t even fully know who you are. 

Let’s take a closer look at how memory loss complicates end-of-life care, and what you can do to make the process as smooth as possible without letting the stress and sadness of the situation take over. 

Why Some People Experience Memory Loss at the End of Their Lives

If you’re taking care of someone who is nearing the end of their life, chances are they’re dealing with a chronic condition or maybe just old age. It’s important to note that the risk of dementia increases with age. In fact, it nearly doubles every five years after age 65. So, a loved one who didn’t have memory issues just a short time ago might be struggling with them now. 

Some individuals who are terminally ill can start to show signs of terminal restlessness and delirium. You might see your loved one become easily agitated, and their alertness might start to change. Some of the common signs of delirium include: 

  • Reduced awareness of the surrounding environment
  • Mood swings
  • Disorientation
  • Delusions
  • Impaired short-term memory

Anything from dehydration to emotional turmoil can fuel these symptoms, and they can fluctuate throughout the day. However, it can be difficult to see someone you care about dealing with them, especially when it comes to short-term memory loss. Don’t assume that they’re dealing with dementia just because of this delirium. Instead, do what you can to understand the root cause and find ways to help make them more comfortable. 

Memory Loss and End-of-Life Wishes

If a family member or loved one has been dealing with memory loss for a while and they’re nearing the end of their life, it can complicate things when it comes to their last wishes. Obviously, you want what’s best for the person you love, but you also want to honor what they want. 

If the proper documents haven’t been drawn up, that can add more stress to everyone’s lives – especially after that person passes away. Dealing with grief and trying to cope with a loss while also handling legal documents or trying to work out a will isn’t something anyone should have to deal with. Unfortunately, it happens far too often.

When someone dies without a will in place, you’ll likely have to follow intestate succession laws. This simply means that your loved one’s assets will be distributed to their closest living relatives, who will descend in priority. 

There are also alternatives to living wills, like trusts and holding companies. If your loved one had assets there, they might have already decided how those funds would be distributed after their death. 

It might not be in your best interest (or the best interest of your loved one) to try to get them to create or change a will as their memory starts to fade – especially during their last days. That can be a slippery slope, and another family member or caregiver might challenge that they don’t have the mental capacity to make changes. 

Ideally, you’ll be able to work with your loved one or, at the very least, encourage them to create a living will when they’re still of sound mind. Go through the simple steps with them as soon as possible, including: 

  • Choosing an executor
  • Going through property records
  • Deciding on beneficiaries
  • Appointing guardians (if necessary)
  • Putting the will on paper

If they don’t have one, talk with family members, their bank, and even consider consulting a lawyer about your best options. 

Taking Care of Yourself

It’s not easy being a caretaker, especially for a close family member. Watching the physical and cognitive decline of someone can take a toll on your mental and physical well-being. 

You can’t pour from an empty cup, and if you’re spending all of your time and emotional energy on them, you won’t fully be able to give them the care they need or deserve. 

First, get rid of the stigma that suggests self-care is selfish. Prioritize your well-being so you can take better care of others. When you adopt the right mindset, it will be much easier to find time for yourself. 

Consider taking shifts with other family members, friends, or professional caregivers. Doing so will give you time to focus on yourself and will make it harder to feel overwhelmed by the situation. If you’re in your “golden years”, it can take an even greater toll on your mind and body to see an aging loved one struggling with their memory. The last thing you want is to put yourself at a greater risk of certain health conditions because of stress. Make sure you’re maintaining your mental wellness by: 

  • Seeking out professional help
  • Fighting back against isolation
  • Staying active
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating a well-balanced diet

Taking care of yourself and finding a healthy balance for your mental health can actually help to better prepare you for the loss of your loved one. It will be easier to manage your grief without feeling like your world has crumbled around you. 

It will never be easy to see a loved one deal with memory loss, especially as they near the end of their days. But, these suggestions can help you prepare yourself and your family, and might just make that transition period less overwhelming as you go through it. 

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