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Next-generation dementia care could learn from cancer care. Palliative care helps patients in their final months, and is often used for people suffering from end-stage cancer. But it can actually help anyone who has a long-term, chronic illness, and it could be especially effective for people living with dementia. ✦

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  • In the 1950s, a single British physician named Cicely Saunders championed a new kind of care for terminally-ill cancer patients. She found that relieving pain and suffering made them happier—and ironically, live longer, even if drugs couldn't actually treat their condition.

    That was the birth of hospice

    In the 1950s, a single British physician named Cicely Saunders championed a new kind of care for terminally-ill cancer patients. She found that relieving pain and suffering made them happier—and ironically, live longer, even if drugs couldn't actually treat their condition.

    That was the birth of hospice, which is a form of palliative care for the last six months of a person's life. Hospice, however, is a form of palliative care, which in general just means person-centered care. Sometimes, this means using life-saving interventions, like antibiotics for an infection. Other times, it means just making sue the person is comfortable. It depends on what the person and their caregivers want.

    Palliative care could save dementia care, which is the more expensive in the last five years of life than cancer and heart disease. It could also save health care in general; it's cheaper than the current care systems in place. The trouble is, because it was historically used for cancer treatment, that's how most doctors think of it. Luckily, a few hospitals are testing out palliative care. If their results are good, it could expand nation-wide.