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Dementia: Ethical Issues

Dementia And Moral Standing, Truth Telling, Autonomy, New Medications, A Natural Dying, The Right To Well-being

There has been much progress in the ethics of dementia care. Dementia is a syndrome (i.e., a cluster of symptoms) that can be caused by a myriad of diseases. The most common disease cause of irreversible, progressive dementia is Alzheimer's disease, which this article will frequently allude to.

Moral progress is evident in the fact that the use of physical restraints is diminishing in nursing homes. By the mid-1990s, ample evidence had accumulated that "minimal restraint" or "no restraint" policies actually keep persons with dementia safest, for otherwise they can choke to death on strapped chairs, or fail to thrive as a direct result of physical coercion. Increasingly, architects have focused on how to design long-term care facilities that maximize the freedom to wander while minimizing environmental obstacles or hazards. Similarly, psychiatrists have become more adept at setting clear therapeutic goals for behavioral medications, monitoring for outcome, and using the smallest doses necessary. This avoids the problem of polypharmacy (prescription of large numbers of drugs, many of which are unnecessary and cause harm), which can further harm cognition in people with dementia who have problems with agitation, paranoia, hallucination, and the like. Increasing attention is being given to the fact that people with dementia can experience physical pain, especially in the end stage, and may require pain-relieving medications (palliative care). Professionals and family members are realizing that in the advanced stage of this disease, assisted oral feeding ensures a better quality of life than artificial nutrition and hydration (Post, 2000).

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