Supporting Your Terminally Ill Loved One in Hospice Care

Contribution by Scott Sanders

The vast majority of Americans would prefer to die at home surrounded by loved ones than in a medical facility, and hospice care makes this possible for people with a terminal illness. According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, over1.4 million seniorswith Medicare received hospice care in 2016 alone. Although hospice care teams provide medical, physical, emotional, and social support, there’s a lot that family members can do as well.


Making an End-of-Life Plan


It's smart to develop an end-of-life plan with your loved one as soon as possible. You may have tomake difficult decisionsfor your loved one, so it’s best to have an idea of what they want. For example, they may not want to be resuscitated or put on a ventilator, or they may prefer certain life-saving treatments over others. Talk to your loved one and write down what they want for their end-of-life care.


You should also take this opportunity to develop a funeral plan. Find out if your loved one would like to be cremated or buried, and what they would like in terms of a memorial service. According to Lincoln Heritage Funeral Advantage, the average funeral costs between$7,000 and $9,000. Your loved one may be concerned about burdening you with this expense, especially if they’re leaving behind medical bills as well. Find out if your loved one is eligible for burial insurance to help cover some of these costs and to give everyone some extra peace of mind.


Understanding the Goals of Hospice Care


Loved ones can also benefit from learning how hospice care works. Since the focus is on compassionate care rather than curing, hospice can look quite different than the medical care you're used to. People typicallyenter into hospicewhen their life expectancy is less than six months. They may choose to start hospice care because treatment is no longer effective or they simply wish to stop receiving treatment.


The priority of hospice care is to improve the patient’squality of life. This means stopping aggressive interventions, like chemotherapy or radiation, and focusing on symptom management. Quite often, one of the main goals is to relieve pain. With the patient’s best wishes in mind, the hospice team will do everything they can to keep your loved one as comfortable and independent as possible.


The Role of The Hospice Care Team


The hospice care team typically provides care at thepatient’s home— this allows the patient to enjoy the greatest quality of life and remain close to family. Thecare teamis composed of many specialists, including doctors, nurses, counselors, social workers, and physical therapists. These individuals will do everything from administering medications to guiding your loved one through the dying process. Counselors and social workers are also there to help family members cope with the emotions and stress involved in caring for a terminally ill loved one.


What You Can Do


You can provide a great deal of physical and emotional support to your loved one. On the physical side, try to tweak their environment tokeep them comfortable. It’s not uncommon for people who are dying to experience sudden body temperature changes, so add blankets if they seem cold or put a cool cloth on the forehead if they’re too warm. Your loved one may also struggle with skin and mouth dryness. Use lotion and lip balm, and moisten their mouth with a damp sponge if they’re not willing or able to drink water.


Providing emotional support is a little more personal. A Place for Mom recommends justsitting quietlywith them and sharing their presence. If they want to talk, listen to what they’re saying and offer words of comfort in return. You can ask them about how they feel and encourage them to talk about memories that they hold fondly. Most importantly of all, remind them that you love them.


Many family members and patients see hospice care as a blessing. It’s a huge help to have specialists come in and provide compassionate care to a dying loved one. Plus,Medicarewill cover the entire cost of hospice if your loved one remains in the home. While it may be difficult to learn that your loved one is entering hospice care, remember that it will give them the opportunity to spend their final days how they wish.

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