What might the idea of a 'good death' mean for a person with dementia?

From the December 2015/January 2016 issue of our magazine, advance planning for the end of life may be particularly beneficial for a person with dementia, though death can remain a difficult subject to address. Tim Beanland, Knowledge Services Manager, considers the idea of a 'good death'.

'I heard someone on the radio talk recently about a "good death". What does this mean and can someone with dementia have one?'

The modern view of a 'good death' developed out of the hospice movement. It recognises that death is a natural aspect of life.

Such topics are still taboo for many people and everyone will differ. For most of us a good death means being treated with compassion, being kept comfortable and free from distressing symptoms, and being somewhere we know with people who are close to us.

Additional challenges

Achieving such a death can be difficult, and dementia may make things harder still. This is partly because how dementia progresses in its final stages can be very unpredictable and so more difficult to plan for.

The fact that a person with advanced dementia may have limited ability for verbal communication – for example to express their wishes – is a further challenge. However there is still much that can be done.

Forward planning

There are various legal tools that can help people to plan ahead. These include advance decisions and various powers of attorney, details of which vary between England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A good death will be a little easier if the person has already talked with their family about issues such as where they would prefer to die.

Care professionals

Sensitive and honest communications with the professionals involved in the person's care are vital. Knowing what might happen next means that family members, and where possible the person with dementia, are prepared and can take part in difficult discussions with greater understanding.

Professionals should always involve family members in decisions about the person, and the person themselves as far as is practicable.

See our factsheet End-of-life care or call 0300 303 5933 to order.

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