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By: Lucille Rosetti
When someone you love is entering hospice care, it can be hard to know what to expect. If you haven’t been in this situation before, you might not even know what questions you want to ask, only that the path is unfamiliar. I have assembled some important information to help you navigate the journey and feel more at ease.
What is hospice?
When someone starts hospice, this means doctors have determined that person could be in the final stages of life. When starting hospice, both the patient and family have agreed to put quality of life over curative treatment. Hospice provides peaceful methods for managing end-of-life pain to help your loved one savor the time they have left. Your loved one will either remain at home or in a care facility.
If you haven’t done so already, it’s important to talk with your loved one about end-of-life arrangements. Reader’s Digest points out this conversation can bring a surprising amount of comfort to you both, putting minds at ease. It’s also important to know where to look for critical documents such as a will, medical durable power of attorney, CPR directive, and so forth. If your loved one isn’t sure about the paperwork, locate it before it is needed and if you are unable to locate the appropriate documents you can initiate new ones.
Comfort in the care team
The hospice care team is comprised of various personnel who will work together to ensure your loved one’s optimal quality of life. Doctors, nurses, CNAs, chaplains, and social workers typically play an active part in helping with hospice care.
Hospice social workers often play a particularly integral role, evaluating your loved one’s needs and desires, and developing a plan to meet them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about their background and education, since familiarity with their qualifications can put your mind more at ease. As an example, these individuals must complete an accredited Master’s of Social Work program. Numerous universities throughout the U.S. provide classes both online and on campus, and in the course of completing their requirements, hospice social workers often perform anywhere from 900 to 1,200 hours of field work.
Throughout the hospice stay, the social worker will help coordinate the care team. Your hospice social worker can help with understanding the physical process of dying, and chaplains are often called upon for spiritual concerns. The multidisciplinary approach of hospice helps alleviate distress, as well as pain and other symptoms. Your loved one might receive a variety of supportive services while in hospice, such as special dietary considerations, prescriptions, or counseling. If a potentially treatable issue should arise, such as a bladder infection or pneumonia, it can, in most cases, be treated.
If you have never been with someone who is dying before, it can be helpful to know how to recognize the signs someone has reached the end of their life. As Verywell Health explains, there are 12 symptoms someone has entered the dying process, which are:
- Shortness of breath
- Reduced appetite and thirst
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sleeping more
- Changed social interaction; more withdrawn or more attached
- Delirium or restlessness
- Cold hands and feet
- Mottled skin
- Rattled breathing
When your loved one experiences these symptoms, it’s important to be accommodating. The team can help with pain management, anxiety, and other symptoms, and if your loved one prefers time alone or more time with family and friends, try to respect those wishes. Under most circumstances, physical contact during the last moments is both acceptable and encouraged, and can console both you and your loved one.
The hospice journey is oriented toward your loved one’s peace and comfort. While the patient is the focus, it’s important for family members and friends to learn what to expect. The team is there to support your loved one, and you can feel more at ease through questions, understanding, and preparation.