End-of-life is a topic most people typically like to avoid bringing up in a conversation. It’s a subject that can be uncomfortable and downright frightening, but like most scary things in life, a little preparation and knowledge can go a long way to soothe your fears and make you feel more comfortable. Although each individual in hospice care will have different needs, knowing some things to expect in hospice care is empowering to you and your loved one.
The beauty of hospice care is that you and your loved one are in control of how they will spend their final days—you will have the ability to find a care team that you are confident will come up with a plan and a schedule that will make this difficult transition as smooth as possible. Depending on the needs of the patient, this team may consist of doctors, nurses, social workers, home health aides and clergy members, each with specialized roles to fill. These roles range from medical care, assisting with daily tasks such as bathing, eating and dressing, and providing spiritual and emotional support. These specialists will do everything necessary to improve the quality of the time your loved one has left.
A hospice nurse will be on call twenty-four-seven in case of emergencies, but individuals can expect visits from their care team anywhere from daily to a few times a week or even less. This is very specific to each individual, depending on their level of mobility and self-sufficiency, as well as their symptoms and any medications or treatments needed. The frequency of visits will also change over time, most likely increasing as your loved one nears the end of their life.
One of the unsung roles of the hospice care team is the social worker. Many people are focused solely on the physical aspects, managing symptoms and ensuring proper medical care is given. Our society often shies away from dealing with death, which is where social workers enter the picture. They will work with your loved one in dealing with the depression and anxiety that can come from terminal illness. Social workers are also there to support you and the rest of your family throughout the grieving process and stress that often comes with caring for a dying loved one.
There aren’t many things that hospice caretakers don’t do. For matters outside the medical or spiritual realm that a nurse, social worker, or chaplain would handle, hospice organizations often have volunteers available to aid you or your loved one with errands and other tasks around the house—things such as light cooking and cleaning—that may fall by the wayside when managing this often emotionally and physically draining process. They are there to give families a bit of a break when needed.
The prospect of having to choose hospice care for a beloved family member is daunting. There are so many unanswered questions and fears and anxieties, which can be overwhelming. Just know that when you choose hospice care, you are never alone. There is always a supportive team who has your back, and whose mission is to make sure that you and your loved one can make the best of your final days together.