Hospice and palliative care can improve the quality of life at the end of life. These tips can help you find the best care.
What is hospice and palliative care?
For many seriously ill patients, hospice and palliative care offers a more dignified and comfortable alternative to spending your final months in the impersonal environment of a hospital, far from family, friends, pets, and all that you know and love. Palliative medicine helps you manage pain while hospice provides special care to improve the quality of life for both you as the patient and your family. Seeking hospice and palliative care isn’t about giving up hope or hastening death, but rather a way to get the most appropriate and best quality care in the last phase of your life.
Hospice is traditionally an option for people whose life expectancy is six months or less, and involves palliative care (pain and symptom relief) rather than ongoing curative measures, enabling you to live your last days to the fullest, with purpose, dignity, grace, and support. While some hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care facilities provide hospice care onsite, in most cases hospice is provided in the patient’s own home. This enables you to spend your final days in a familiar, comfortable environment, surrounded by your loved ones and supported by hospice staff.
The term “palliative care” refers to any care that alleviates symptoms, and can be helpful at any stage of an illness, even when there is still hope of a cure by other means. It is an approach that focuses on the relief of pain, symptoms, and emotional stress brought on by serious illness. In some cases, palliative treatments may be used to alleviate the side effects of curative treatment, such as relieving the nausea associated with chemotherapy, which may help you tolerate more aggressive or longer-term treatment.
Talking about hospice and palliative care
Although death is a natural part of life, the thought of dying understandably still frightens many of us. For many in Western society, death remains a taboo subject. Consequently, many patients and their families remain reluctant to even discuss the possibility of hospice care or palliative care. While most people would prefer to die in their own homes, the norm is still for terminally ill patients to die in hospital, receiving treatment that is either unwanted or ineffective. Their loved ones usually have only limited access and often miss sharing their last moments of life.
Some families who do choose hospice care often do so only for the last few days of life, and later regret not having more time to say goodbye to their loved one. To ensure that your family understands your wishes, it’s important for anyone with a life-limiting illness to learn all they can about hospice and palliative care and discuss their feelings with loved ones before a medical crisis strikes. When your loved ones are clear about your preferences for treatment, they’re free to devote their energy to care, compassion, and making the most of the time remaining.
How hospice and palliative care works
As a patient, hospice care focuses on all aspects of your life and well-being: physical, social, emotional, and spiritual. There is no age restriction; anyone in the late stages of life is eligible for hospice services. While specific hospice services around the world differ in the amenities they provide, most include a hospice team that may include your physician, a hospice doctor, case manager, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, a counselor, dietician, therapist, pharmacologist, social workers, a minister, and various trained volunteers.
The hospice team develops a care plan tailored to your individual need for pain management and symptom relief, and provides all the necessary palliative drugs and therapies, medical supplies, and equipment. Typically, hospice care is provided in the comfort of your own home and a family member acts as the primary caregiver, supervised by professional medical staff. Hospice providers make regular visits to assess your needs and provide additional care and services, such as speech and physical therapy, therapeutic massage, or dietary assistance. Certified home health aides may also be deployed for help with bathing and other personal care services.
As well as having staff on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, a hospice team provides emotional and spiritual support according to your needs, wishes, and beliefs. And emotional and spiritual support is also provided to your loved ones, including grief counseling.
The benefits of hospice and palliative care
Just as obstetricians and midwives lend support and expertise at the start of life, hospice care providers offer specialized knowledge and support at the end of life. When you’re terminally ill, hospice can reduce anxiety for both you and your family by helping you make the most of the time remaining and achieve some level of acceptance. In fact, research published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that terminally-ill patients who received hospice care lived on average 29 days longer than those who did not opt for hospice near the end of life.
-As a terminally ill patient, often already in a weakened physical and mental state, making the decision to receive hospice care instead of continued curative treatment can help avoid the dangers of over-treatment.
-In-home care from a hospice team often means you receive greater monitoring than you would in a hospital.
-In addition to focusing on your physical health and comfort, hospice care also focuses on the emotional needs and spiritual well-being of both you and your loved ones.