Dying From Dementia With Late-Stage Symptoms

The death of your loved one can be a hard concept to wrap your head around and accept. But knowing what to expect can help you when your loved one has late-stage dementia. It might help to understand what's coming in the future so you can prepare emotionally and practically.

This article explains how dementia progresses and what happens during late-stage dementia.

Progression of Dementia

A person with dementia will follow a typical pattern of decline. But the pace varies depending on the person.

Someone with Alzheimer's disease may struggle to remember new information. Names, events, or recent conversations are no longer easy to recall. They may show signs of depression and indifference. Planning or completing usual tasks might become difficult.

As the disease progresses, a person often becomes confused and disoriented. They have trouble communicating (both speaking and writing). Poor judgment and withdrawal from activities they once enjoyed are also common.

It's important to note that there are different types of dementia. The patterns of symptoms vary due to the specific brain changes that occur in each type. A wide range of symptoms may appear early in the disease.


People with Lewy body dementia and Alzheimer's disease may have similar early symptoms. Memory loss is common in both conditions, for example. Yet, Lewy body dementia progression leads to other symptoms. A person with this condition may experience hallucinations, sleep problems, and difficulty walking.

In contrast, people in the early stages of frontotemporal dementia usually don't have memory problems. Instead, they might have obvious changes in personality and behavior.

Still, in the final stage of dementia, symptoms are the same across all types of dementia. In the last stage, a person goes through a large decline in everyday functioning.

symptoms of late-stage dementia
Verywell / Cindy Chung

Late-Stage Dementia

One day, your loved one with dementia will reach the late stage of dementia. This stage is also called end-stage dementia or advanced dementia. In this stage, their symptoms become severe.

A person will have problems with everyday functions. These include bathing, dressing, eating, and going to the bathroom.

At this point, your loved one won't be able to walk or sit up without help. They will become bedbound and need care all the time.

They will also lose the ability to speak and show facial expressions, like smiling. This change can be especially challenging for loved ones to see.

How Dementia Causes Death

A person in the late stage of dementia is at risk for many medical complications. Because they're unable to move, they're especially high risk for certain conditions.

They could get a urinary tract infection (UTI) or pneumonia (an infection of the lungs). They can also experience skin breakdown, pressure ulcers (bedsores), or blood clots.

Trouble swallowing, eating, and drinking leads to weight loss, dehydration, and malnutrition. This further increases their risk of infection.

In the end, most people with late-stage dementia die from underlying dementia or a related complication. For example:

  • A person may die from an infection like aspiration pneumonia. If someone has trouble swallowing, food or liquids may go down the wrong tube. Instead of going into the esophagus or stomach, it's breathed into the airways or lungs. This leads to a type of pneumonia called aspiration pneumonia.
  • Another person may die from a blood clot in the lung because they are bedbound and not mobile.

It's important to know that late-stage dementia is a terminal illness and can lead to death. In these cases, the death certificate may list dementia as the cause of death.

Recap

Someone with end-stage dementia may die from an infection or other medical complication. But it is their severe dementia that led to the complication and made them too weak to fight it off.

Summary

There are different types of dementia that someone can have. In the beginning stages of dementia, symptoms vary depending on the type of dementia.

As time goes on and dementia progresses, the symptoms start to be the same among all types of dementia. People call this late-stage or end-stage dementia. During this stage, your loved one may be at a very high risk of complications.

People with end-stage dementia often die from a complication related to their dementia.

A Word From Verywell

While advanced dementia has no cure and ultimately leads to death, you can still help your loved one. You can provide comfort and play an active role in their care.

Hospice care is available and encouraged for individuals with late-stage dementia. Hospice focuses on pain relief and managing your loved one's symptoms. Comfort feeding and mouth care are some of the strategies. Even engaging in pleasurable activities like music or calming touch can help.

With this approach, you can be proactive in providing love and support. You can nurture your loved ones without putting them through unnecessary medical treatments.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Insitute on Aging. Alzheimer's disease fact sheet. Updated July 8, 2021.

  2. McKeith IG, Boeve BF, Dickson DW, et al. Diagnosis and management of dementia with Lewy bodies: fourth consensus report of the DLB ConsortiumNeurology. 2017;89(1):88-100. doi:10.1212/WNL.000000000000405

  3. Young JJ, Lavakumar M, Tampi D, Balachandran S, Tampi RR. Frontotemporal dementia: latest evidence and clinical implicationsTherapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology. 2018;8(1):33-48. doi:10.1177/2045125317739818

  4. World Health Organization. Dementia. Updated September 2, 2021.

  5. Kumar CS, Kuriakose JR. End-of-life care issues in advanced dementiaMent Health Fam Med. 2013;10(3):129-132. PMID:24427179

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