Hospice Physician and Patient

How to Prepare for a Death in the Family

Being caught off guard with difficult news and receiving a terminal diagnosis are among the top reasons people are afraid of illnesses such as cancer. Terminal illness is stressful enough, but add in the fear of the unknown and it can be a recipe for misery. The time before a loved one’s death shouldn’t be fraught with fear, as there are ways to prepare once a terminal diagnosis has been given. This is where hospice comes in. Hospice caregivers work to provide education, compassionate care, and support to families who are facing end of life issues. 

Knowledge of what to expect can help families feel calmer and more in control when that time comes. It doesn’t erase the pain of losing a loved one, but knowing how to cope can make a positive impact on the life of the patient. Dying is part of the life cycle and can be filled with peace and dignity with the proper preparation. Let’s explore how hospice can help you prepare for the death of a loved one. First, we will briefly explain what hospice is. 

What Is Hospice Care?

Hospice embodies the idea that life should be lived every moment, no matter how many moments are left in a person’s life. Hospice providers are compassionate caregivers who focus on patient comfort, education, and support for the families they serve. Patient care is the number one priority. All care is tailored to the individual needs of the patient  and changes are made as the needs evolve throughout the dying process.

Hospice care is a set of services that are provided once a terminal diagnosis is given and a doctor has certified that a patient may only have six months or less to live. The care is provided by an interdisciplinary team usually consisting of an attending physician, a Registered Nurse (RN) case manager, home health aide, social worker, and a chaplain. 

Hospice services typically include regular nursing visits at the patient’s home to ensure the patient is comfortable and any symptoms are controlled. Home health aides provide help with activities of daily living (ADLs) when the patient requires assistance. Pharmacy services for medications, and durable medical equipment (DME) such as hospital beds are also coordinated through hospice. 

There are many benefits to hospice services and now that we know a little about what hospice care is, we can dive further into what hospice can do to help families prepare for the death of a loved one. 

Three Ways Hospice Can Help Families Prepare For A Death

Physical Support

While hospice care is patient-centered, part of that focus is on supporting the family caregiver. Providing care for a loved one with terminal illness can be difficult. Emotions may run high, and fear can easily settle in. Trying to juggle caring for your loved one, work, social activities, other family obligations, and grieving the impending death can cause a physical, mental, and spiritual strain on caregivers. 

This breakdown is referred to as caregiver burnout. The amazing support that hospice services provide is one of the main reasons families choose hospice care for their loved one. Having an interdisciplinary team of professionals offering education on what to expect during the dying process and how to manage symptoms is key to maintaining quality of life for both the patient and their caregivers. 

Medical Care Is Provided In The Home

Once a terminal diagnosis has been given and all curative treatment exhausted, there comes a time when the patient may decline further invasive care. Endless trips to the doctor’s office, hospital, or testing and treatment facilities may no longer appeal. This does not mean that a patient no longer requires or wants medical care. 

Hospice services provide excellent medical support right in the comfort of the patient’s own home. Whether “home” is a private residence owned by the patient, a family member’s home, a nursing home, a hospice in-patient unit, or in some cases a hospital, the services are provided where the patient resides. This allows the patient to be comfortable at home in their familiar surroundings while still receiving excellent medical, emotional, and spiritual support. 

Thorough Education At Each Stage Of The Dying Process

Patients will experience many changes in their bodies during the dying process. As the patient gets closer to the end, they will likely be dependent for all care. They may be totally bed bound, have cognitive decline with altered communication or even the complete loss of speech. Other common changes include bladder and bowel incontinence, decreased appetite or ability to eat and an increased need for sleep. The RN case manager will guide the family through each stage of change and educate on how best to support the patient.

Assessing And Managing the Patient’s Needs

Having an entire hospice team to help share the burden of care is a tremendous benefit. Knowing that the nurse will do a thorough assessment at each home visit and having the opportunity to discuss the findings can be a huge relief. This takes the guesswork out of what care to provide at each stage of the process. 

Another benefit of this patient-centered care is that rapid changes can be made to the care plan as needed to manage symptoms so that you can be sure you have the best treatment at the right time. Often a preset or standard treatment plan is in place for ease of use if the patient develops pain, shortness of breath or agitation. The hospice doctor is also available to consult for urgent changes to the treatment plan if needed. The contracted pharmacy, as well, can be contacted to quickly order new medications as the changes arise. 

Care Coordination

Occasionally, a patient may require a transfer to the hospital for the treatment of a non-hospice related diagnosis or to receive a procedure to maintain comfort, which is coordinated by the hospice team. 

If a social worker identifies a caregiver breakdown, or by family request, then it may be necessary to transfer briefly to an inpatient hospice unit for respite care.

Respite care is alternative care to briefly relieve the primary caregiver. Time spent in respite care can range from several hours to several weeks. The hospice social worker can assist in determining whether the respite care is covered by insurance. 

While the family typically is the main source of patient care, the hospice team is there to provide the support necessary to maintain patient comfort. That support includes the family caregiver which is one of the many benefits of hospice.

Emotional Support

Families will often begin the process of grieving as soon as a terminal diagnosis has been given. It is common for patients and their family members to be in different stages of grieving when facing impending death. Grief can be a heavy load to carry and make it more complicated to care for a dying loved one. Coping with grief is a complex issue and is one reason why the hospice team places such a high priority on it. 

Facilitating The Grieving Process

Grieving takes time. It uses energy, emotion, and even has a spiritual component. Grief can affect mood, appetite, and energy levels. In an already stressed individual, grief can feel like an unbearable load. One goal of hospice is to assist families with balancing the demands of caregiving, attending to their own personal needs, and  facilitating the grieving process. 

Bereavement Support

With hospice, it is truly a team approach, and bereavement support is provided through the help of the nurse, social worker and chaplain. Social workers are tasked with assessing emotional, social, mental, and spiritual needs. They can also assist with referrals for other support resources as needed. One resource the social workers may utilize is in finding a support group to further aid in the grief process if they feel it is beneficial.

Chaplains are another source of grief support for both the patient and their families, and they work hand in hand with the social worker and hospice case manager. Even if a patient does not claim a particular religion, spiritual support can still be beneficial. 

The services provided by the bereavement team do not end immediately upon the patient’s passing, but can continue for some time after to facilitate the grieving process of the family. 

Spiritual Support

Spirituality doesn’t end when a patient reaches the end of their life here on earth. Many believe in life hereafter. Some do not. Spirituality is not limited to a religion, but rather is a set of deeply held sincere fundamental beliefs. These beliefs can be challenged by illness and the prospect of death; thereby creating a crisis of faith. 

Chaplain Services

The hospice chaplain understands the issues that can arise at these times and offers spiritual support to the patient and their family members as the need arises. As noted before, the chaplain is typically focused on spirituality and not religion. This allows the chaplain to counsel a multitude of faiths. If there are particular ceremonial requests or religious traditions, the chaplain can also facilitate those. 

Hospice Las Vegas

The day to day tasks of caring for a family member who has a chronic illness take time. It can even feel isolating. You don’t have to do it alone. Having an entire team of professionals who are working alongside you is empowering. It can improve both the patient’s and caregivers’ ability to cope during end of life. If you are looking for support in caring for your loved one and are preparing for a death in the family, contact us to see how Siena Hospice can make the difference you’re needing. 

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