Terminal illness is hard to accept no matter what stage of life someone is in.
When you, or someone you love, gets sick you always expect them to eventually get better.
Unfortunately, there are times when that just doesn’t happen.
End of life care is a sensitive subject but it is one that needs to be addressed so everyone is on the same page.
This includes not only the patient but their medical care team and the family.
When an individual no longer wishes to pursue active treatment, or their doctors confirm it is no longer effective, hospice care can step in to make the last phase of life as comfortable and restful as possible.
If you are in need of additional information, let’s go over some important hospice care options.
Palliative Care vs Hospice Care
Often the terms palliative care and hospice care are used at the same time and it can be confusing to know the difference.
Palliative care does treat those with a serious illness with the goal to improve the quality of life and relief of symptoms.
Like hospice, palliative care also includes more than medical treatment.
Palliative care also provides emotional and social support.
It brings together a team of not only doctors and nurses, but also clergy, nutritionists and social workers. In addition, palliative treatment can be done in both an inpatient setting or at home.
The biggest difference between the two is that palliative works with the premise that the illness is manageable long term. It is not an end of life service.
Hospice steps in when the doctors have determined that an illness is no longer responding to treatment and there is nothing left to try.
This decision is usually reached when it is expected that the patient has 6 months or less to live.
How to Know When it Is Time
Depending on the illness, there has been a focused plan in place to try and resolve the problem.
It could be chemotherapy, radiation, dialysis or other treatments and medication.
At some point in certain situations, it becomes evident that these efforts are no longer effective and the patient is at the last stage of life.
When this occurs, a delicate but sincere discussion should take place to allow for the individual to transition to comfort care and symptom management while preparing themselves and the family for the inevitable outcome.
If there are still questions concerning the appropriate timetable, here are tips for when to call hospice.
There are also occasions when an individual chooses voluntarily to enter hospice care.
This usually takes place when they no longer wish to continue treatment and they wish to live out their lives on their own terms.
How Does Hospice Work?
Once the decision is made to discontinue treatment and enter into hospice care a team is put together formulate a plan.
This plan includes meeting the medical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the patient.
There are professionals from each field who work with the patient directly.
The ultimate goal of hospice is to allow the patient to maintain dignity and have a say in their final days.
Comfort care includes pain management, treating breathing issues, and dealing with nausea problems.
This allows the patient to focus their attention and energy on spending precious and valuable time with their friends and family.
The hospice team sets up regular visits on a rotating schedule so all the needs are met in a timely manner.
Should new issues arise or existing ones worsen, there is always someone available 24/7 to make sure everyone is comfortable.
There is additional helpful information through the National Hospice Foundation.
Hospice Care Options
There are several options when it comes to hospice care.
The decision on where and how to begin hospice depends a great deal on the patient, their condition, and their wishes.
Inpatient Hospice Care
There are some individuals who benefit from inpatient hospice care.
This usually happens when the treatment of the symptoms requires around the clock monitoring.
This is best handled in a hospital or nursing home setting.
There are specific hospice care facilities that are dedicated to the comfort and needs of only terminally ill patients.
They are specifically trained in these situations and offer caring and concentrated support.
Home-Based Hospice Care
Many people opt for hospice care at home and choose to live out their days in familiar surroundings.
In these cases, while there is still tremendous support from the hospice care team, there is typically someone who is the primary caregiver and stays all the time with the patient.
A plan is made for daily care.
This includes nutrition, personal needs, medical supplies, counseling, and even spiritual guidance.
The patient gets the attention they need and are able to have visitors in the comfort of their own home.
Support for Caregivers
While the obvious priority is the care of the patient, hospice also puts a great emphasis on the support of the caregiver.
They understanding the physical and emotional strain that is involved in dealing with someone who is in their last life phase.
Hospice offers counseling to help caregivers understand what to expect and to sort out their feelings.
There are also resources to step in and give caregivers time off to take care of their own personal business and even just take a break from the overwhelming stress.
The Tough Decisions
End of life conversations are difficult and most people are not prepared for the tough decisions that need to be made.
When the treatment of an illness or disease has stopped being effective, the doctor or medical team often suggests the transition to hospice.
This allows the patient to live the remainder of their days relatively comfortably and in peaceful surroundings.
Fortunately, there are many hospice care options available today with great support for both the patient and their families.
If you, or someone you love, are facing this situation, please know there are great resources available.