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Hospice care, also known as palliative care, is treatment geared toward easing symptoms and improving the quality of life for people with serious illnesses. Some illnesses including cancer, heart failure, lung disease, kidney disease, liver failure and late-stage dementia can cause significant discomfort. Cancer, for instance, may bring pain and fatigue. Lung disease can result in being chronically short of breath. All serious illnesses may lead to the emotional pain of depression and anxiety.
Receiving hospice care does not necessarily mean that a person cannot receive curative treatment at the same time. Someone with cancer, for example, may receive radiation and chemotherapy to shrink tumors. At the same time they may also receive hospice care to ease pain, exhaustion, nausea and anxiety.
If you live in the East Bay area of San Francisco, including Livermore and Pleasanton, and if you are taking care of someone receiving hospice care, our staff of trained, compassionate caregivers can help. We will treat your loved one with kindness and respect to help him or her maintain comfort and dignity at home.
When patients are discharged from a hospital, they are generally offered the choice of going to a rehabilitation or skilled nursing facility or of going home. One factor to consider is that care in a rehabilitation or skilled nursing facility is usually covered by Medicare. If your loved one chooses this option, he or she will likely receive several hours of therapy each day.
There are some drawbacks to this option, though. Living in a skilled facility with other people who are also ill or recovering from injury or surgery might allow your loved one to pick up an infection, slowing his or her recuperation. Outside of therapy time, your loved one’s schedule will be interrupted and he or she may complain of boredom or even depression at having to spend extra time away from home.
“Hospice is a special type of palliative care. It pursues symptom management after doctors determine that a cure is no longer possible and that if the illness progresses as expected, a person has a life expectancy of fewer than six months. In addition to managing symptoms, a hospice team can help you and your loved one prepare.”
Does Hospice Care Only Begin When Traditional Treatment Ends?
According to the National Institute on Aging, hospice care can occur instead of or in addition to treatment aimed at curing your loved one’s illness. Hospice is a special type of palliative care. It pursues symptom management after doctors determine that a cure is no longer possible and that if the illness progresses as expected, a person has a life expectancy of fewer than six months. In addition to managing symptoms, a hospice team can help you and your loved one prepare physically, emotionally and spiritually for the end of life.
Will Receiving Hospice Care Shorten My Loved One’s Life?
Hospice care is an extra layer of treatment to manage discomfort and enhance quality of life. It is not intended to hasten death.
The Center to Advance Palliative Care cites a 2010 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This study compared lung cancer patients who received palliative care to those who did not receive palliative care. The people who had palliative care reported fewer symptoms of depression and a higher quality of life. They also lived an average of 2.7 months longer than those who did not receive any kind of comfort care.
What Kind of Care Will My Loved One Need?
Everyone’s needs are unique, and we will help you develop a plan of care to address the issues most important to you and your loved one. The Mayo Clinic also provides information about issues a caregiver may face while delivering hospice care at home.
Personal care. People who receive hospice care may be weak or tired. Just getting out of bed can feel like a struggle. Our caregivers are on hand to help with tasks like bathing, grooming, toileting and dressing. If your loved one becomes incontinent, we can place mattress pads to protect your loved one’s skin.
Skin integrity. Illness and certain kinds of medicine can contribute to your loved one’s skin becoming thin and fragile. Also, if your loved one has trouble moving around, he or she may develop pressure ulcers when can result in pain and infection. Our caregivers can help reduce the risk of ulcers by keeping your loved one’s skin clean and dry and by helping your loved one turn from side to side in bed.
Pain. If your loved one is struggling with pain, his or her hospice care team will probably prescribe painkillers to be taken regularly. It is important for your loved one to receive this medicine on a preventative schedule instead of waiting for pain to become severe. Our caregivers can help ensure that your loved one is using pain medications as prescribed.
Sensitivity to cold. Illness and old age can lead to sluggish circulation. Your loved one may complain of cold hands and feet. We will assess the environment to make sure your loved one isn’t sitting or lying in a draft. We can also ensure that the room is warm enough and that your loved one has plenty of blankets.
Trouble breathing. Difficulty breathing or difficulty catching one’s breath is a common symptom of diseases that affect the lungs. We can help your loved one turn on his or her side or raise his or her head, neck and shoulders with pillows. Some people also get relief from a cool air humidifier. Your loved one’s doctor may also prescribe oxygen for your loved one to use at home.
Depression and anxiety. It is normal for someone who is seriously ill to feel sad or stressed. We have found that in many cases it helps simply to listen with empathy. Some of the people we care for enjoy distractions such as listening to music, watching a favorite television show or movie and having us read stories, poetry or scripture aloud.
Can Your Caregivers Help as the End of Life Approaches?
Our caregivers are available to support you and your loved one throughout the disease process, and this includes providing care to those who are reaching the end of their lives.
First, our caregivers are taught to recognize the signs that life may be coming to a close. These signs may include
- withdrawal – no longer wanting to engage with friends or family
- restlessness or agitation – picking at clothes or sheets
- sleeping most of the time – difficult to wake up
- sharp decrease in appetite – may stop eating and drinking altogether
- changes in breathing – periods of time when breathing appears to stop
- references to things that other people can’t see, especially a loved one who has died before
While these changes are taking place, our caregivers will continue to provide physical care such as giving sponge baths, helping your loved one change positions, making sure medications are taken as prescribed and keeping your loved one warm and dry.
Because most people stop eating a few days prior to death, they may develop a dry mouth or dry, sore lips. We understand that forcing a dying person to eat or drink is counter-productive and may even lead to choking. Instead, we will help keep your loved one’s mouth dry with small chips of ice or a wet sponge. Additionally, we can use lip balm to ease the sensation of parched lips.
Perhaps most important, our caregivers can stay with you and your loved one during this difficult time. Even if your loved one seems to be sleeping deeply, he or she may still be able to hear some of what is going on around him or her. We encourage you to share your favorite stories of your loved one and tell your loved one why you value him or her so much.
If your loved one passes at home, we will help you notify the appropriate people or agencies such as hospices, doctors or funeral providers.
Dealing with a serious, painful disease process is not easy for you or for your loved one. If you are acting as a home caregiver to someone receiving hospice or palliative care in the East Bay of San Francisco including Livermore and Pleasanton, we are here to help. Get the support you need today.
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