We Have End of Life Doulas- What about "Dementia Doulas"?

I did a podcast with Mary Anne Oglesby-Sutherly called Aging, Angst & Alleluia’s. Among other things, she is a Dementia Doula. I had not heard of that term before and now that I have, I’m hooked.

Doula is an ancient Greek word meaning a woman who serves. That word has evolved into today’s world slightly altered. 

The Oxford Languages from Wikipedia defines doula as a woman with formal obstetric training, who is employed to provide guidance and support to a pregnancy during labor. From admission through delivery, a doula stays at her assigned patient's side. A woman employed to provide guidance and support to the mother and a newborn baby.

BUT there are now more doulas than just baby birthing doulas. There are End of Life (EOL) Doulas and, as Mary Anne offered, Dementia Doulas. We go through labor to enter this world and we go through labor to leave it. It seems very appropriate if you can have a doula assist with the birthing to enter that we have a doula who will assist us as we leave, as we are birthed into the other world.

Dementia doesn’t play by the end of life, dying rules. It isn’t until the disease progresses to not swallowing, to choking, to not being able to eat that we can actually predict when death will arrive. Yet, for years life as we know it has been slowly ebbing away. So many small deaths occur until the final one arrives. Dementia is a very long labor to leave this world. 

What if there was a doula to support a person during this journey? What if there was a person who was educated in the dynamics of dementia who became a consistent (operative word consistent) friend, a guide, a resource who interacted with the person and the caregiver on a regular basis, who was not family, who did not have the emotional connections to the losses, to the changes? A person who could appreciate the present, focus on the present, and guide all those connected with this special person into living each moment as a gift?

I don’t know how all this will work—money, time, places, teaching, qualifications. I do know the need is very much there and from need comes those pioneers who are ready to think outside the box to develop a way.

We did it with birth doulas when birthing became a medical event instead of a natural part of living. We did it with the hospice movement when dying became a medical event and we lost sight of its naturalness. We can do it again when we have been presented with the struggle to care for those living and dying with dementia.

Something More about...  We Have End of Life Doulas- What about "Dementia Doulas"?

It is difficult to know when your loved one with dementia begins the dying process.  My booklet, HOW DO I KNOW YOU: Dementia at End of Life helps families recognize the unique signs that indicate the dying process has begun. If you are a caregiver for a person with dementia, you may want to get my guidebook, BY YOUR SIDE, A Guide for Caring for the Dying At Home.  It provides information and support to the families who are caring for and making end of life decisions on behalf of someone with dementia.

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Hello from Czech rep.! I am a birth doula here and now caring for my own father (75) diagnosed with dementia induced by his parkinssons… Being a doula helps me a lot with the situation here but its still quite difficult as I am his daughter too… I would love to involve a dementia doula in this life phase, with my doula heart I strongly feel the need and the gap for it… but it doesn’t exist here at all… Even birth doulas are quite a young profession here 20 years … Thanks for your article, so nice!
BK Books replied:
Hello Lucie from the Czech Republic. So pleased you are part of the BK network. Death Doulas are getting recognition here and Dementia Doulas are just beginning. Both are much needed. Blessings to you and your Dad. Barbara


There certainly are Dementia Doulas and we are all about offering not only quality training that raises the bar in dementia care but also supporting our Dementia Doulas through our ongoing membership community. www.dementiadoulas.com.au
BK Books replied:
Thank you Wendy for that information. Blessings! Barbara

Renee Ives

We utilize something similar to this in our Independent living model, although we do not call them doula’s. When someone is unable to be safe any longer due to dementia, we recommend several resources. One of these, is a live in caregiver. Many times the person flourishes because they have a consistent person with them whose sole purpose to make sure they are functioning safely and enjoying their life! The only drawback, as with many things, is the cost. For those lucky enough to afford it, it is an awesome way to provide for your loved one.
BK Books replied:
Hi Renee, Live in caregivers do wonderful work and support, are a service SO needed. Wish there was a way to provide financial assistance as part of medicare. Thank you for drawing attention to this need. Blessings! Barbara

Emily Joy

I was so drawn to this article ! Support and kindness meeting people where they are. So valuable for the community touched by Dementia . Thank you Barbara. I hope I can bring this idea to Maine.

BK Books replied:
Hi Emily, I hope you can bring this idea to Maine also. Blessings! Barbara


John Lodge

Barbara, I feel I know you. I am very familiar with your books and have always learned much from your insight. You are truly an angel sent to help those of us who work with folks and families going through the last stage of their life.
BK Books replied:
Oh John, thank you for those kind words. Blessings to you and the work you are doing. Barbara

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