I have been caring for my great aunt for over 7 years now. Her health has been gradually declining. After her recent physical, the doctor suggested I should begin to consider palliative care or hospice for her.
It is all feeling a little overwhelming.
Do you have any advice on making end-of-life choices and making end of life decisions?
Caring for Someone at the End of Their Life
I am sure you are feeling overwhelmed, and that is normal. Families are often confused by the terminology and by what actually happens to a person at the end of their life. Questions arise on concerns ranging from breathing difficulty at the end of life to the signs that end of life is approaching.
Just the words “palliative care” and “hospice” can sound frightening. Many families think that means death is imminent. The reality is that palliative care can be used for many years prior to the end of life to improve the quality of life for those living with a chronic illness. It is not limited to just end of life.
Likewise, hospice is a philosophy of care that improves the quality of life for the patient and their loved ones. The Medicare hospice benefit entitles the senior to at least 6 months of care—longer if they continue to meet the criteria. Most private insurance plans provide similar coverage.
What Is Palliative Care?
Palliative care is a term many family caregivers are not familiar with. Some mistakenly think palliative care and hospice are the same. They are not.
The goal of a palliative care program is to improve the quality of life for people with chronic or life-limiting health conditions. It can assist in managing the pain and symptoms of medical conditions more common among the elderly, such as congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
A patient care team includes a variety of health professionals: physicians, nurses, aides, social workers, dietitians, and therapists. Together, they create an individual care plan for every patient. It is a plan that evolves as the patient’s needs change.
These professionals are experts at finding ways to help patients control pain, reduce fatigue, manage anxiety and shortness of breath, and much more. It all contributes to an improved quality of life.
What Is Hospice Care?
Hospice professionals are end-of-life experts. They provide care and support to the patient and their family in many ways:
- Provide care in whatever setting a patient calls home, allowing them to remain in familiar surroundings at the end of their life.
- Educate families about end-of-life behavior and changes, as well as what to expect in the weeks and months ahead.
- Use a holistic approach to caring that is designed to meet the patient’s emotional, spiritual, and physical needs.
- Offer adjunct therapies like art, music, and pet therapy to give patients and their loved ones different ways to cope with their fears and frustrations.
- Provide one-on-one and group bereavement support to families after their loved one’s passing.
One final tip, Kaitlyn, is to visit CaringInfo at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. The site is filled with resources ranging from tackling end-of-life paperwork to talking with a loved one about hospice or palliative care.
I hope this information is helpful to you and your family.