The later stages of dementia

4. What is likely to cause the person's eventual death?

The life expectancy of a person with dementia is unpredictable, and the disease can progress for up to around 10 years. It is estimated that a third of people with dementia at any one time will be in the later stages of the disease. Although dementia is a life-shortening illness, another condition or illness (such as pneumonia - an infection in the lung) may actually cause a person's death. This other condition or illness will most likely be listed as the cause on the person's death certificate. Pneumonia is listed as the ultimate cause of death in up to two-thirds of people with dementia.

The person's ability to cope with infections and other physical problems will be impaired due to the progression of the disease, and the person may die because of a clot on the lung or a heart attack. However, in some people no specific cause of death is found, other than dementia. If the person is over 70, ageing may also be given as a contributing factor. Alternatively, the death of a person with dementia could be caused by a condition that is completely unrelated to their dementia.

Depending on the circumstances and the practices of the doctor, dementia may be entered on the death certificate as the sole or main cause of death, or as a contributing factor. If it has not been mentioned, you can ask the doctor to include it if you wish.