Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Major overhaul needed in end-of life care for patients with dementia


Three University of Chicago geriatricians just published a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine calling for creative and wide-reaching solutions to the problem of sub-optimal end-of-life care for patients with dementia. An estimated 500,000 people die every year in the United States suffering from Alzheimer’s or related diseases and many of them receive inadequate pain control, are subjected to ineffective and invasive therapies such as tube feedings, and do not receive the benefits of hospice care.

"The nature of the illness is the root cause of the problem," said Greg Sachs, M.D., professor of medicine, section chief of geriatrics at the University of Chicago and first author of the study. "Our health care system is oriented toward treatment of acute illness but dementia produces a long, slow, unpredictable decline."

Their study is one of four in the October, 2004 issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine that focus on the expanding role of primary care physicians in the care of patients with chronic and ultimately terminal illness – a growing, difficult problem for physicians and for society. Death used to come quickly, but now it "fades in slowly -- over years or even decades," notes Christopher Callahan, M.D., of the Indiana University Center for Aging Research, in an editorial that ties together the four papers. The pace of death, he adds, "has slowed so suddenly that we seem to have lost our ability to recognize it." As a result, "we find ourselves poorly trained, our systems poorly designed, and our patients and communities poorly equipped."

The Chicago geriatricians list the barriers to optimal care for such patients and suggest ways to get past them. The first hurdle is the unwillingness of physicians and families to think of dementia as a terminal illness. Patients with dementia decline slowly, with long periods of stability punctuated by sudden declines and partial recovery. The proximate cause of death is usually a complication of the dementia, such as pneumonia or other infection, often triggered by the decreased mobility that comes with advanced dementia.

A second barrier is the inability of physicians to predict the time of death. Medicare and most insurance plans offer hospice benefits only to patients with a life expectancy of six months or less, but the median survival for patients with dementia is several years and varies enormously. Patient assessment becomes even more difficult as the dementia advances and the patient can no longer describe his or her symptoms or notify caregivers of discomfort. A third barrier is the poor fit between dementia and health care financial incentives, which reward providers for transferring rapidly declining patients into hospitals – where the process of dying is prolonged. "The only parties who may not be better off from the transfer," note the authors, "are the patient and family."

The solutions involve education, better prognostic tools, and changes in the health care system. Geriatrics, dementia, and palliative and end-of-life care are all under-represented in medical school curricula and deserve more attention as the numbers of elderly continue to increase. Physicians also need to educate the public, to create a baseline of awareness before families have to face these issues directly and make difficult decisions about a loved one. Perhaps most urgent, however, is a nationwide effort to "align the financial incentives in the system with the provision of palliative care." The authors suggest relaxing the criteria for hospice to accommodate earlier referral of patients with dementia. Nursing homes should be financially rewarded for providing good end-of-life care rather than for transferring dying patients to a hospital.

Finally, caregivers need to shift away from the reigning concept of a sudden, and usually quite late, switch from curative to palliative care. Instead, they should develop new models based on a gradually changing blend of curative, restorative and palliative care services as patients decline and goals are adjusted.

Sharon Agsalda | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Advanced analysis of brain structure shape may track progression to Alzheimer's disease
26.10.2016 | Massachusetts General Hospital

nachricht Indian roadside refuse fires produce toxic rainbow
26.10.2016 | Duke University

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Solid progress in carbon capture

27.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>