I recently received a letter from Janet in La Cañada expressing the comfort and care she and her mother received from hospice near the end of her mother’s life. She asked that I explain how hospice can benefit all concerned.
Hospice is a philosophy of care. The hospice philosophy or viewpoint accepts death as the final stage of life. The goal of hospice is to enable patients to continue an alert, pain-free life and to manage other symptoms so that their last days may be spent with dignity and quality, surrounded by their loved ones. Hospice affirms life and does not hasten or postpone death.
Hospice care is suitable when the person no longer benefits from treatment and is expected to live 6 months or less. Hospice care gives palliative care, it treats the person rather than the disease; it focuses on quality rather than length of life. It provides family-centered care; involving the patient and the family in making decisions. Care is provided for the patient and family 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Hospice care can be given in the patient’s home, a hospital, nursing home, or private hospice facility. You, your family, and your doctor decide together when hospice care should begin and in this country, most care is given in the home, with a family member or members serving as the main hands-on caregiver.
Hospice care is often not started soon enough. Sometimes the doctor, patient, or family member will resist hospice because he or she feels it sends a message of no hope. This is not true. If you get better or the disease goes into remission, you can be taken out of the hospice program and go into active treatment.
Hospice services are coordinated with the patient’s physician and provided during regularly scheduled visits by hospice team members to manage the patient’s care. Hospice also helps patients and families clarify their care goals and achieve comfort and symptom relief.
The hospice team includes professionals, paraprofessionals and volunteers who are sensitive and responsive to individual patient and family needs.
Hospice nurses are skilled in assessing and managing pain; they are trained caregivers who provide hands-on care. They provide education and support about the patient’s illness and what to expect.
Hospice social workers are available as friendly and skilled listeners to provide emotional support and help with problem solving, financial issues and planning.
Hospice physicians work with the patient’s physician and are available for pain and symptom management consultation as well as to make house calls as needed.
Hospice chaplains offer spiritual support, working with the family’s clergy when available.
Hospice volunteers are specially trained and an important element of the hospice team, available to spend time when they are needed most.
Hospice bereavement specialists provide grief and loss counseling, memorial services and other support for family and loved ones.
When the day comes that you or a loved one are facing the final days of life, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about hospice. The experience of hospice can be rewarding for all involved.
NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor’s degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, 790-0123, ext. 225.