Hospice Care strives to improve or maintain the highest quality of the patient’s life through emotional, spiritual, and medical support during the final phase of life.
Hospice Care is a gift for patients and their families, but it is a misunderstood and underutilized gift. Eighty percent of Americans do not think of hospice when reviewing options for end-of-life care. They do not know what it provides or that the cost of the service is covered by Medicare. Yet families who have experienced hospice care are overwhelmingly satisfied with the care that was provided.
A statistic that stands out for Allison Givens, a Social Worker at Bethesda Hospice Care, is that only 25 percent of Americans have designated the type and limits of the medical treatment they will receive at the end of life.
Hospice organizations explain the options and philosophy of the care provided to patients and family. In fact, Allison lists the first gift of hospice care as the assurance of knowing what the senior adult wants in the final months of life.
So what are some of the other gifts hospice care provides?
Why Hospice Care is a Gift to Patients and Their Families
Gift of Comfort
Hospice provides compassionate, comfortable care for people facing a terminal illness following a physician’s prognosis of six months or less to live. It’s a team effort involving:
- the Hospice Care team medical director
- the patient’s primary care physician
- nurses/case managers
- hospice aides
- social workers
- bereavement counselors
Medications are administered to ease pain rather than treat the illness, and the physical condition of the patient is constantly monitored to adjust care as needed.
Care can be provided in the home, where most people are more comfortable, or in long-term care communities. The level of care is tailored specifically to the patient’s needs. Statistically, families who have experienced hospice care with a loved one are overwhelmingly more satisfied with the care provided.
Gift of Time
According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, hospice patients live an average of 29 days longer in hospice than in other alternative forms of end-of-life care. This means that the patient is able to spend more time with their family and loved ones. But it’s not just the length of life that matters in hospice, it is also the quality of life.
Gift of Life
Hospice care is not about someone waiting to die. It is about making the most of the life the patient has left. It can be a time of reconciliation, healing of old wounds, forgiveness, and joy. Receiving hospice care services does not mean the patient loses control over his or her life. The expressed needs and wishes of the patient are always the top priority.
Allison notes that when hospice is provided early in the process and curative treatment is replaced by pain management, hospice patients and their families have time to be with one another more fully. “In the hospital the battle may be for continued treatment, which can reduce the amount and quality of time the hospice patient and family can spend together,” she says.
Gift of Peace
This quality time produces peace for the hospice patient because they are surrounded by family, friends, and a hospice staff trained and experienced in meeting their needs while their pain is managed.
Also, hospice staff keeps the family informed about the condition of the patient. “We demystify death by explaining the physical stages they will notice in their loved one,” Allison says. “Instead of being surprised and confused about what they see, the family can share feelings and talk about what is happening and what is needed with the hospice staff.”
Gift of Support
Hospice care also provides support for family members, including respite care to allow family caregivers time away from the hospice patient’s home.
When the care of the hospice patient ends, caring for family members does not have to. Hospice care services include grief support and counseling for family members.
Gift of Memories
Allison tells the story of a man called Pop, the father of a lifelong friend. Pop was dying of cancer. It was summer, and he only had a few weeks to live. Knowing he would not live until Christmas, she and her friend’s family traveled from across the country to surprise Pop and his wife on the morning of July 3 with a Christmas celebration, complete with a decorated tree, presents, and holiday sweaters. “There were 21 of us there that morning,” Allison remembers. “Pop and his wife told us we were crazy, but it was about bringing joy to them, and it is something we will always remember.”
Hospice care allows time for the family to come together, to share and make memories, forgive differences, and celebrate the life of the hospice patient. It is a gift of being in the present, time spent with a loved one, and perhaps the achievement of an even greater understanding of who they are and what they have meant in the lives of others. What is shared in those moments lives on in those who continue to cherish their memories.
Bethesda offers Hospice Care services throughout the St. Louis area. Contact us to learn more about the benefits for you and your senior loved one.