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Ethically Caring for Patients with Dementia and Similar Disorders

May 2, 2022

Registration now open for June 23 CEU event:

Physicians, nurses, social workers and others who assist elderly patients daily are guided by the ethical principles of their professions. These codes of ethics share a similar purpose: to provide a set of values, principles and standards for decision-making and professional conduct.  A code of ethics holds medical professionals accountable for providing safe and compassionate care in the best interest of their patient or client. 

Occasionally, however, conditions such as dementia and other cognitive impairments can create conflicts for medical professionals as they attempt to make decisions in their patients’ best interests.

While all slightly different, the codes of ethics for doctors, nurses, and social workers share many of the same principles. These include fairness and justice, beneficence (doing good), non-malfeasance (doing no harm), and preservation of the autonomy and self-determination of the patient or client.

Those who care for patients with cognitive disorders can be challenged by seemingly conflicting ethical principles. For example, how do you preserve the autonomy and self-determination of a patient who has diminished decision-making ability or is unable to advocate for themselves?

A physician or medical social worker, for example, might believe that a patient is receiving insufficient care from a family member. The logical decision might be to recommend that the patient move to an assisted living or memory care community. However, the professional may fear that a cognitively-impaired patient would reject the recommendation and fire their doctor—leaving a vulnerable elder without a physician altogether.

It can also be challenging to present complex medical options to patients who have impaired decision-making skills while still respecting their autonomy. Medical professionals should ensure patients have ample support from their partners, friends, or family members. When possible, patients should empower a trusted loved one at the time of diagnosis. This person should attend appointments and play an active role in the patient’s care by communicating issues and advocating for the patient when they can no longer advocate for themself.

End-of-life issues can also present significant challenges for health care professionals that serve patients with dementia and similar cognitive or memory disorders.  What are the best practices when palliative care is advised, but families want to seek curative care?  What issues can occur when the patient does not have advance directives?

To assist professionals in navigating these ethical situations, Oasis Senior Advisors is happy to announce that we are sponsoring a live interactive webinar for continuing education credits for Social Workers & Certified Case Managers through Jenerations Health Education.

Stephanie Goldstein, LBSW, of Jenerations Health Education will present “Ethically Handling End of Life Issues With Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia” on Thursday June 23, 2022 from 2pm-3:15pm EST/1pm-2:15pm CST.

Oasis Senior Advisors sponsors live interactive webinars like these on a quarterly basis, and professionals are welcome to attend at no cost. We hope that you’ll be able to join us for this upcoming program on healthcare ethics. Seats are limited and advance registration is required at