Once a diagnosis has been made, the next step is to consider the most appropriate form of treatment. If the condition is determined to be reversible, then the appropriate medication or other medical intervention can and should be started.
Though there is no cure for dementia, treatment with medication can help injured brain cells work more efficiently, while other medications administered later in the process can keep some healthy brain cells from dying. Because treatments are most effective when started early, it’s critical to get an early diagnosis.
Dementia is a complicated and chronic problem. Therefore, it is essential that health care providers communicate with each other and collaborate together in assessment and treatment over time. Since the continuum of care includes outpatient-to-inpatient settings, providers at each stage of the process need to be aware of the “big picture,” and how each member of the treatment team is contributing to care. Team members may include the primary care physician, a hospitalist and psychiatrists as well as multidisciplinary members of the outpatient and inpatient teams (physician, nursing, social work, occupational therapy, physical therapy and discharge planners). Good cooperation and communication among providers will help the person with dementia maintain the highest possible quality of life.
After the diagnosis: Steps for family members
Families are encouraged – early on – to be proactive in getting legal counsel for a loved one with dementia. This is especially important because of the irreversible and advancing nature of the illness. Early planning allows the person with dementia to be involved and express his or her wishes for future care and decisions, eliminating guesswork or disagreement among family members. It also empowers the person with dementia to designate decision makers on his or her behalf. Items to consider include Advanced Directives, Designated Power of Attorney for Healthcare and even guardianship if the loved one cannot give consent for power of attorney, all of which allow trusted family members to assist – and when advanced – to intervene on behalf of a loved one.
Finally, end of life conversations and decisions should take place while a loved one is able to state his or her preferences. This painful but vital aspect of the continuum of care is a real blessing if families know ahead of time how or what their loved one would want when they have a terminal illness and be able to honor those wishes with the help of a Palliative care or Hospice care team.