Dementia Care and Death Notification

For persons with dementia, one question not handled by advanced directives, is how to tell them when a loved one has died. One facility took the lead from the patient’s son.

Well, we just had a person die, and the son told the father. We asked him if they wanted to take the father to the funeral, and the family said no. The nurses themselves don’t really go into it. The son doesn’t think that his father remembers. I don’t know if his father remembers or not, but he doesn’t have a NEED to know. We don’t think it’s our business to say, “Do you remember your wife?” “Well she died.” To the demented person it doesn’t mean anything. We just meet the needs of the person individually. If it was a person who keeps on saying “where is my wife”, “where is my wife”, then we would probably tell him that we are really sorry, but that she had died. But then they have people walking around asking, “Did I get my pills?” “Did I get my pills?” You don’t have to keep repeating. So again it is just really individual. We also go off just what the family members want. It’s their family.

Many long-term care facilities use POLST forms to keep track of their patient’s end-of-life wishes. Some facilities also have on-staff social workers that can help families work through advanced directives for their loved ones.

Have you had the difficult choice of informing a person with dementia about the death of their loved one? How did you handle it?