I just got off the phone with the widow of an old friend of mine. She called to let me know her husband died last week. I hadn’t heard. He was 70. Alzheimer’s.
I last saw him in October on my way to a speaking engagement near Orlando. This was the week before he entered a memory care unit. I’m not sure he knew me. He told stories and laughed like he always did but his words made no sense.
We had grown up in the same neighborhood and I followed him three years behind to the University of Florida. He played baseball, me football. He went into law, me the ministry. Over the years I would stop by and we would go fishing. He loved to fish the lakes.
His wife told me he died from aspiration pneumonia. A very typical way for advanced dementia patients to go. They get food or fluid in their lungs and an infection follows. Often these patients are treated with antibiotics and the pneumonia is cleared up. Then the decline of the patient continues and they get pneumonia again, etc., etc.
They refused antibiotics and called hospice. She told me he died the most peaceful death.
Around Christmas he had gone into the hospital and “it was a horrible experience.” “We didn’t want to put him through that again.” They didn’t.
I told her she did the right thing. I said, “It is so routine to put the people in the hospital, pump antibiotics into them and they are saved only to get worse. I cannot say enough good things about how you handled this. It is so out of the norm but in my view the best of care.”
Here is a great article from 3 years ago about physicians choosing less aggressive treatments as they are dying than does the general public.