Palliative Care and Dementia

Palliative care is holistic care that focuses on relieving symptoms that arise due to a serious condition, regardless of age, diagnosis, or stage of illness. Palliative care aims to improve the quality of life of people living with life-limiting conditions and their families.

All health and social care professionals provide a level of palliative care. However, sometimes more specialised palliative care is needed, and healthcare professionals can be required to provide advice about treatment options, guidance and care, and support with decision-making. 


Dementia palliative care can be understood both as a set of principles that underpin an approach to care and as a type of service that is provided (National Dementia Strategy, 2014). Dementia palliative care reflects the qualities of person-centered dementia care and the holistic focus of palliative care. Palliative care needs can arise at any time in the course of the person’s condition and should be responded to at an appropriate level throughout the care pathway.

Dementia is a life-limiting condition. It can result in a person having difficulties in areas that are key to planning for and ensuring a good death such as difficulty with communication, diminishing capacity, and uncertainty about prognosis. It is recommended that the principles of palliative care be introduced early in the disease trajectory.

Dementia palliative care actively treats distressing symptoms (these can be physical, psychological, and/or emotional) to optimise a person’s quality of life and that of their families, knowing that the underlying cause cannot be cured. Dementia palliative care involves supporting the person with dementia and his or her family to address and relieve the pain, distress, and discomfort associated with advancing dementia and invite them to participate in making decisions about their future care.

The Irish Hospice Foundation ran a Changing Minds Programme which produced a range of guidance around palliative care and dementia. These are available here on the Irish Hospice Foundation website: