Our expert says:
I'm not sure I have seen clear and convincing figures for this. Much will depend on other physical factors, as dementia tends to arise in old age, as do other life-shortening illnesses. IF there are no substantial physical illnesses, people with Alzheimers and other dementias can live for 10 years or more, and as I know from personal experience, this can be both a very rewarding and very anguishing experience for a related caregiver. Has the diagnosis been properly made by a specialist ? best see a geriatrician or a psychiatrist with an interest in such problems, together, and clarify what expectations are realistic in your mom's case.
In my mom's case, the dementia developed gradually over some 15 years, and was managea ble at first ; very difficult for the last 5 years, and terrible the last 9 months.
If she can no longer drive safely, or is likely to get lost, it would be wise to take the car keys away, preferably with a repeated kindly explanation to her. If she will soon no longer be able to manage her finances, you may stillbe able to discuss this with her. She may be agreeable to giving up her bank cards, or to giving you a set with signing powers on her cards and accounts, " so you can help as it becomes more difficult for her to do so".
Check if there are any local aging support groups which might help. And I found two other factors can help a lot.
Various forms of reality Orientation does help --- a large print calendar on which she with you crosses fof each day, but which helps her to remain for as long as possible aware of which day and month it is ; discussing with her things that are going on. As my mom reluctantly had to give up shopping and cooking, I spent much time discussing these tasks with her as I did them --- drawing up a shopping list together, and unpacking with her , discussing the things I'd bought ; planning the next meal, and chatting with her as I cooked. She felt more a part of what was going on, less bewhildered, and less useless ( which was always her great fear ).
The other thing that can help is medication. I found Risperdal ( and now there is a cheaper generic equivalent available ) was brilliant as she became confused and agitated. There is evidence that such drugs might reduce the length of life in older people, increasing the risk of heart attacks or stroke. But so, too, does the awful stress of confusion and agitation. Personally, I think the slightly increased risk is very well worth it for the huge increase in qquality of life it can produce, and should I get into such a situation myself, I pray that someone will give it to me. Tehre's also a liquid version, making it easier to vary the dose as needed, and to give it in a drink to someone who has difficulty swallowing tablets. Just don't put it in tea, which interferes with and damages the drug. But coffee and fruit juices work fine. I found when my mom would get very upset and confused, within 5 or 10 minutes of a cup of coffee with her Risperdal, the great lady herself returned and was impressively better.
Also check out other resources and family members. Even if you are to be the primary caregiver, if someone else can take over even for a very ocasional weekend, it can be great for you, and enable you to continue caring for much longer.
Hope these thoughts are of some help for you.
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