Updated February 17, 2005
Alzheimer's disease, together with other types of progressive dementia, constitutes one of the most common terminal illnesses among America's aging population. Currently, relatively few people with dementia receive hospice, or palliative, care focused on comfort and the emotional, social and spiritual well being.
A University of Chicago clinical research team is implementing a two-part program to improve end-of-life care for these dementia patients. Greg A. Sachs, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, and nationally known researcher in geriatrics and dementia care, collaborates with researchers at the Hospice of Michigan in the development of protocols that blend state-of-the-art medical, comfort and supportive care for patients and their families.
Called PEACE, for Palliative Excellence in Alzheimer's Care Efforts, the program offers an innovative approach to improving the quality of life for patients and their loved ones and represents a constructive model for clinicians across the nation.
One component of the project at the Windermere Senior Health Center, the primary care geriatrics clinic at the University of Chicago, addresses patient and family goals and preferences for end-of-life care, including advanced care planning, appropriate treatment for disease complications like pneumonia or feeding problems, and treatments to improve patients' comfort and dignity.
In Michigan, an affiliated research team headed by Dr. Kathleen Murphy, Hospice of Michigan, studies another component of PEACE. Here, Alzheimer's patients may receive full-service hospice care earlier in the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
Typically, today's hospice care is only available when patients reach the final days of their lives. In both settings, researchers assess the extent to which the PEACE program impacts clinical care, costs and patient and family satisfaction.
Supporting both projects are the Chicago area Alzheimer's Association and its Greater Chicagoland and Detroit chapters.
Read a detailed profile of the Palliative Excellence in Alzheimer's Care Efforts (PEACE) program.
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Promoting Excellence in End-of-Life Care is a national program of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation dedicated to long-term changes in health care institutions to substantially improve care for dying people and their families. Visit PromotingExcellence.org for more resources.